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Khyber Versus Season Seven
K h y b e r V e r s u s
S e a s o n S e v e n
A series of post-eps and replacement episodes based on a slightly different interpretation of canon. The idea, I hope, is that you could actually watch the S7 episodes I list below in the order I have them, intersperse them with my ‘new’ episodes and post-eps, and you would have a somewhat different, but still coherent story arc.
There have been some minor changes in order–“Theef” and “First Person Shooter” have swapped, as have “Je Souhaite” and “Hollywood AD.” “En Ami,” “Chimera,”
“Fight Club,” and “Requiem”* have all disappeared and been replaced with new original episodes.
*These replacement stories never eventuated.
Like any season, there’s also going to be a few reruns…
Khyber’s Season Seven
- the sixth extinction
- amor fati
- millennium / c o l l a p s a r
- the goldberg variation
- the amazing maleeni
- signs and wonders
- sein und zeit
- theef / w e r e t – h e k a u
- first person shooter / h o w g r a v i t y w o r k s o n p l a n e t s p o o k y
- h o m e f r o m t h e w a r (1/2) (replaces En Ami)
- (rebroadcast S03x02) paper clip / c o y o t e l u c k
- w h e r e i e n d a n d y o u b e g i n (2/2) (replaces Chimera)
- all things
- brand x / a m n e s i a
- je souhaite / v a p o r t r a i l
- (rebroadcast S03x23) wetwired / p o e m s
- hollywood ad / t h e w a t e r s k i e r s
- (rebroadcast S06x02) drive / t h e f a l l o f o u r s u m m e r
—— 1 ——
TITLE: Collapsar AUTHOR: Khyber E-MAIL: DISTRIBUTION: Ephemeral and Gossamer OK, others please ask. RATING: PG-13 (language, mature subject matter) CATEGORIES: VA KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully UST, implied Mulder/Scully sex SPOILERS: Show over, no one cares. SUMMARY: Post-ep for “Millenium.” “If there is anything more between us, it doesn’t happen because it’s New Year’s Eve.”
Disclaimer: If I owned them, I’d settle with Fox and make the damn movie before DD gets an afro to go with that ’70s ‘stache.
Author’s Notes: Something begins here. Thanks to mimic117 for an early read and CathrynXF for the exacting technical edit.
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Holiday Inn Hagerstown, Maryland January 1, 2000 1:48 AM
“You don’t get to do this, Mulder. There will be no sweeping-off-of…”
Damn it. How do you say that?
“You are not allowed to sweep me off my feet.”
And these feet will stay right where they are, traitors.
“Not now. Not after everything. Not after the ditchings. The ignorings.”
“Just because you suddenly find a moment, you don’t get to change the rules.”
What rules, he says… That’s not going to work.
She can’t sleep, hell, she can’t sit down, still stomping the small hotel room in her blue jeans and sock feet. First she had been mad at herself, mad for ruining what could have been a perfectly good moment. You could have kept looking into his eyes. Kept smiling, because you know you were Dana, and said the same thing, “No, it didn’t.” You wouldn’t even have had to change the words. It would have been fine right there, everything else going the same way, except maybe he’d have put his arm around your back instead of your shoulder. You’d have come back to this little room with a warm feeling and a tingle.
But you didn’t, and now it’s broken.
No, it’s not, it’s his fault, what the hell is he thinking pulling cheesy after-the-office-party crap like that on me, after all this time? It’s not fucking fair, it’s almost, it’s disrespectful, somehow, that you think that will work. I’ve cleaned blood off you, I’ve cleaned puke off you, I’ve fucking shot you, I’ve fucked you and not just once, you think you can just pull out the Times Square ball and suddenly my knees will go weak? Are you just saving me for a spare moment, after all this time? No! Damn you! I am not going to apologise for not playing along when that’s all you think I am worth. I’d be less pissed at you if you had just pulled out a ring.
Okay, don’t say that last part. In fact, don’t say anything, Dana, you never have and you never will. In fact, if anyone is keeping score, Dr. Scully, you’re up about four to two, even if tonight counts, on failed, embarrassing, painfully pedestrian attempted seductions. The wine and cheese incident? The time after who remembers which horror when you managed to say “don’t go,” but couldn’t bring yourself to say anything else, and not so much as an overcoat was removed?
That’s it. I’m perfectly capable of embarrassing myself, Mulder, and if I am your goddamned touchstone I expect better from you… that is an unbelievably weak line of imagined argument, and he’s opening the door. How did I…
She stands gaping, as if she had no idea how she’d come to be knocking on the door four down from her own. Her face is flushed, her eyes wide.
“Mulder! Mulder, I… what are you doing up, you should be…”
“Then what are you doing here?” he laughs quietly. “No, those Tylenol-3s keep me up anyway. I’m glad you came, look, c’mon in…”
He moves to the side, but she doesn’t enter. She’s looking up at him, because he’s not wearing a shirt, and that’s something she’d prefer not to pay any attention to. In fact, she’d helped him take it off an hour ago— on account of his shoulder, of course. At an almost automated level, she’s pleased to notice that he’s still wearing the sling.
“Okay, or don’t…” He takes a deep breath, looking down at his feet. “I’ll just say it, I’m sorry, that was a stupid, cheesy, office-party kind of move.”
She’s taken one step forward, but not far enough in that he can close the door behind her. He’s still hemm-hawing, kicking at imaginary dust with one sweatsocked foot as he continues. “Sometimes we think too much, and I figured, what the hell, it’d be nice to sort of go with the moment. And… I shouldn’t have done that.”
“No,” she says. She thinks it might be a trick, trying this aw-shucks boy stuff like she wouldn’t remember where he likes to put his hands. Three fast steps forward, pushing the door shut behind her. “You do not get to do this, Mulder. You are not allowed to decide how this is going to happen. Not like everything else.”
“What do you mean?”
“This has never been an equal partnership, Mulder. The where, the what, the when, it’s always been up to you. ” He almost staggers backwards, looking confused.
“Scully, I… I mean, if you want to take a bigger role directing what we’re working on, I think that would be great…”
“Another time, Mulder.” She needed that, him to be either stupid or coy, otherwise her fragile and sparking wave of anger would just dash itself up and dissipate.
“Okay, I’m lost now.” That wave is rolling now, cresting, as he stands there looking dumb and playing innocent and asking for it. She stays far enough back from him that she doesn’t have to look up.
“If there is anything between us… more between us, it doesn’t happen because it’s New Year’s Eve.” Her voice stumbles over itself slightly, faster than she would normally speak. “It doesn’t happen when we’re nearly dead. It doesn’t happen when you think ‘gee, I should kiss Scully’. It doesn’t happen when there’s nothing else more interesting going on.”
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I’ve got him. I’ve got him positively squirming. This is his nightmare scenario, because I know that he can’t say no to me, not when it matters. He can argue. He can cut me out. He can try to go behind my back. He can question me after the fact. He can rationalise anything, as long as it doesn’t involve saying ‘no’ to my face. He can’t do it because he loves me, I love him, but he’s in love with me and he believes in love, the same way he believes in alien space ships and ancient Navajo bibles and zombies.
“So how does it happen?”
He calls the bluff, if it’s a bluff, in fine style.
Subconsciously, I think, he knows the voice. Low, quiet, a hint of challenge. Daring me to match it, go one better. He’s profiled me, whether he knows it or not, and that voice has worked a couple of times before, on darker days. Bad things in me want that voice, things that have all the wrong connections to my thighs, my breasts, and the parts of me that hum and whimper with wanting and don’t know their medicine from their poison.
I step in close. He said once, in another close moment, that under the shampoo and the soap that the scent of my hair made him think of heat, of fire. I want him to smell that, I want him to want me and fear the fire. This is how I feel with a gun, I think, sharp-edged and volatile, and the bad things in me sing because that’s how they want him to feel, too. I’m just wearing a tank top and he can see the flush on my neck, my chest, knows it starts down where he wants to put his lips. But he can’t, because he’s had his turn. He used the voice. It’s reverse Russian Roulette, Modell-style, which is appropriate considering that was one of the dark days. My turn to pull the trigger now.
When guns go off things can end, and Mulder’s terrified of finality.
My hand goes up behind his head, pulling him down. It’s a dominant gesture, the squeeze on the trigger. Our eyes are open almost up until the point our lips meet, mouths open, no little nuzzles this time. He knows what I like, remembers it better than I do. I reach down with my other hand to intercept his wrist, because I know he wants to put his good arm around me, pull me in so our bodies press together. His bare chest will touch me, and his fingers will brush on the skin of my lower back where my top is pulled up. If those things happen I’m doomed, and this dark night goes down with the others. The bad things sing because they remember those nights and that one afternoon, insensate and aflame. Those broken, razor-edged shards of obsidian time float separate from everything else, waiting to be tripped and fumbled upon, accidentally (yes it’s always an accident) slicing open rational skin.
But oh, is this one good, our mouths working togther, breath mingling, his tongue gently meeting mine (this is my favorite thing, maybe ever.) It starts with deep sweetness, sweet like but deeper than the auld lang syne of a couple hours ago. In the middle goes to promise, committing, and then at the end we’re starting to show off, our mouths skipping the words and trying to communicate all the things our bodies are wanting to do and be done to. The pull on my body, everything wanting to press forward into him, is unbearable gravity. Collapsar, I think, black hole star, collapsar— no, still sounds too sexy, try singularity— but even a physics word is sounding like sweat and fingertips.
We stop for air, opening our eyes, inches apart. I’m trying to control my breathing, trying not to pant. Mulder’s breath chuffs out hard.
“Scully,” he says. It’s the voice to the tenth power, sounding as though he’s come from full moon woods with blood on his hands and a year with the wolves.
No, it doesn’t happen like this.
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She removes her hand from behind his head, not so quick as to recoil, and takes a long step back. Her breath catches. He breathes hard, blinks, looking down, up, just not at her.
“Mulder, Mulder, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, that’s… I’m not helping… that’s not what I meant… you’re hurt, you should rest, I’m being…” She pats at his slung arm, an almost pathetic gesture in its plainness.
“I… no, it’s okay, Scully, you just, you better go.”
She turns quickly, letting herself out.
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Pedantic Author’s Notes: Even in 1999, you had to go pretty far off the beaten track to not get cell service in Maryland, so I am assuming that our heroes decided it would be smarter to grab a hotel rather than drive back to DC at midnight when they’ve both been beaten up in the past 24 hours. Awright? <g>
—— 2 ——
Weret-hekau image from IOHO
TITLE: Weret-hekau AUTHOR: Khyber E-MAIL: DISTRIBUTION: Ephemeral, Gossamer, please ask for anywhere else. RATING: PG-ish CATEGORIES: VX (when was the last time you saw “VX?”) KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully something. SPOILERS: “Theef,” “Orison.” SUMMARY: Post-ep for “Theef.” “Big magic… only needs to believe in you. And trust me, it believes in you.”
Disclaimer: Send all the money and ad revenue to 1013/Fox.
Author’s Notes: Part of Khyber’s VS7. Thanks to Cathryn F. and Samiam for editing duties. This story was posted a week ago at: http://www.khyberfic.net/Khyber
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May 1, 2000 8:52 AM
“Mulder, it’s me. I got a cab. I’ll meet you at the airport.”
“No problem, what’s up?”
“An hour of concentrated retail therapy.”
“All right. Did you take your luggage?”
“Yeah, I’ve got it. Thanks.”
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LIL ITH she knew.
SA MA EL she didn’t, though there was a vague creep of familiarity from something she’d read in Mulder’s apartment at some point.
She stepped careful-casual around the pentagram anyway.
“Got something else you want me to take a look at?” the shopkeeper asked as Dana tried to look businesslike, holding a large manila envelope.
“Yeah, it’s… evidence.” Dana busied herself pulling an unlabeled evidence bag out of the envelope, a bundle of brown burlap inside it.
“No, it’s not.” The woman extended a hand to take the evidence bag. Dana stood immobile, looking at her, glancing down at the ragged little item in her own hand. The shopkeeper raised an eyebrow, beating the younger woman to it.
“You’re learning fast,” she said with a teasing note of approval. “It’s okay, you don’t need to worry about me. That stuff’s not my game. I can probably tell you some things though.” She paused. “Your call.”
Dana considered for a moment, then handed the package over, Peattie’s poppet face-down in its ziploc bag. The older woman turned it face-up, one hand stroking it gently through the plastic.
“Wow. This is powerful stuff, girly-girl.” The younger woman’s face clouded over even more, her jaw setting hard. “Sorry. That’s bad, right? I got a flash there. Happens.” The shopkeeper held the bag for a few moments, her eyes closing. Her voice slowed, became less nasal.
“Man’s magic, learned from a father, a death charmer, healer gone very, very wrong. Oh, this is… wow.” The closed eyes twitched as if she’d stubbed her toe. One painted thumb ran over the poppet’s blank face, its nailpunched eyes.
“Someone very close to you, loves you, broke the hex. He’s powerful too— not everyone can just do that. You spilled the hexer’s blood.”
“Okay.” She shook her head once, clearing cobwebs. “Wow. Oh yeah, this is yours.” The older woman’s voice resumed its smartass tone as she handed the plastic bag back to Dana. “Yours like very few things are.”
“What do you mean?” Dana asked, more quietly than she’d intended.
“This is a charm… a powerful, powerful charm. There is so much power bound up in that thing now. That hexer, he can’t hurt you again, ever.” The shopkeeper shrugged. “I doubt anyone walking this earth these days could, not with a hex or a curse. I wouldn’t jump in front of a bus if I were you, but magically speaking, you are covered.”
“You said that charms only work if they’re important to the bearer, if someone believes in them.”
“Then why are you here?” The shopkeeper smirked at Dana. “Besides, big magic’s not jealous like the Nazarene. It only needs to believe in you. And trust me, it believes in you. Think of your little buddy there as a flu shot.”
“What am I supposed to do with it?”
The occultist walked over to the low wooden desk to Dana’s left. She lifted a small stack of hand-sized cards off the face-down deck.
“Don’t carry it,” she replied. “You’re practically glowing. You’ll attract all kinds of attention that way.” She picked up another stack of cards, slowly shuffling them together, face down.
“What kind of attention?”
“Things that look for power. My advice?” She faced Dana again, tapped the stack of cards on the counter to line up the edges. “To really tie up the knot, I’d give it to that lover of yours, the one who broke the hex. Have him know it’s yours, keep it safe for you.”
The woman suddenly flipped over the stack of cards in her hands, as Dana swallowed her defensive answer. Why the hell does it matter what this lunatic urban gypsy thinks?
“It’s all the same to the cards.” The card topping the deck showed two medievally-rendered bodies, nude and entwined. “They’re not much for technicalities. More… big picture. Interpret as you will.”
Or what her cards think, fine, whatever. Dana turned to leave, voice cold.
“Thank you very much for your advice.”
“Speaking of which,” the shopkeeper said to Dana’s back, “want me to do your cards? On the house.” Dana’s steps stopped abruptly, just short of the wheel painted on the floor. “With that around, I bet I can tell you the name of your son’s first girlfriend and what color her eyes will be. I’m good with eyes.”
“No, thank you.” She waited for the tiniest second, then stepped discreetly around the circle and out the door.
“I kind of figured that,” the shopkeeper said to her empty shop.
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42 Hegal Place Arlington, VA 15 hours later
He expects the knock; she’d called to see if he was home. He hadn’t heard heels in the hall, though. Suspicions are confirmed when he opens the door and he’s looking right over her head. She’s wearing off-duty canvas sneakers so she’s tiny, off-duty almost-no-makeup so she’s pale and young-looking. She’s carrying a shopping bag from a shoe store at the outer range of her salary band. Her eyes stay slightly downcast.
“Hey, Scully, what’s up?”
“Mulder, I need you to do me a favor.” Ah, a practiced speech. He almost only ever gets to hear the first line of these, but appreciates the effort nonetheless.
“Sure, c’mon in. What’s going on?” He moves aside, nodding to beckon her in. She doesn’t move.
“Thanks, I… I can’t stay, I just needed to ask you to do something for me.” Right, Scully, he thinks, you don’t even go out to buy lettuce without at least an inch of heel. This was a dash, something you felt in your belly and barely had the nerve for.
“Shoot. Hey—sure you can’t stay? My TV comes with wiseass commentary.” Ahh, he knows this look, jeans and fresh face and sneakers and ruffled hair. It’s not a common one, and he generally only gets to see it on days when she’s put keeping herself together ahead of putting herself together. He’d seen it for better reasons a couple of mornings, a couple of years ago, misses it suddenly and desperately. “Okay.” His voice softens, not wanting to throw her off her plan any further. “What do you need?”
“I, uh, I have something here that I want you to hold onto for me.” She lifts the bag, handing it to him. He peeks inside, sees Peattie’s small Scully-manikin of rough cloth in its plastic envelope.
Keep surprising me, he thinks.
“You beat me to it,” Mulder says quietly. “I was looking for this two nights ago up at that cabin. I thought it might be important.”
She still doesn’t meet his eyes, glancing down the hallway of his apartment building as if she’s afraid someone’s going to come with a butterfly net and a new wraparound coat.
“I just need you to, uh, keep it safe.”
He reaches into the bag, takes out the soft package. We’re casting a spell, he tells himself. We’re throwing a big ol’ half-, maybe three-quarters-believed-better-safe-than-sorry invisible pentacle around Scully.
A brief moment of vaguely uncomfortable silence is appropriate, and Mulder’s mind goes on a free-associating rampage. Spellcasting Scully, a fine small finger, no, two, drawing practiced symbols in goofer dust, finishing a glyph with a sideways stroke of her thumb. A Minoan snake priestess, blue-eyed like no Cretan woman would be, red-haired, bare-breasted and sea-powered.
The moment passes. Sunday-night-in-DC Scully is in front of him now, looking for acknowledgment and a silent promise that this will join the ranks of things that Will Not Be Spoken Of Again.
“Yeah. I will. Don’t worry, no shoeboxes. You… it’ll be safe.”
“See you tomorrow,” he says as she walks away down the hall, glow invisible in her silent footprints.
—— 3 ——
h o w g r a v i t y w o r k s o n p l a n e t s p o o k y
TITLE: How Gravity Works On Planet Spooky AUTHOR: Khyber E-MAIL: DISTRIBUTION: Ephemeral, Gossamer, please ask for anywhere else. RATING: PG-13 for mature content CATEGORIES: V,R KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully something. SPOILERS: S7, lots. SUMMARY: Post-ep for “First Person Shooter.” “And Mulder’s falling down on his end of the deal by doing a lousy job of making the bed; it’s impossible to convince myself that this really is nothing.”
Disclaimer: 1013 owns and is sorely neglecting significant creative capital borrowed in this story.
Author’s Notes: Part of Khyber VS 7. Thanks to Mims and Samiam for early reads. This story was posted a week ago at: http://www.khyberfic.net/Khyber. I *strongly* recommend reading “Collapsar” and “Weret-hekau” first.
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h o w g r a v i t y w o r k s o n p l a n e t s p o o k y
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I haven’t got the heart to come out and say that I have, in fact, been using the bed. It’s theoretically possible she hasn’t noticed, because her sense of smell is still not up to normal standards and probably never will be. But there’s got to be trace evidence of some kind, hair and fibre, whatever, and Scully is nothing if not observant. It’s more likely that she knows, and that she knows I know she knows, and we’re just gonna not mention it, ‘cause that’s how the gravity works on Planet Spooky.
I never liked her place anyway. It’s all things Scully thought she was supposed to be at various points— but ferocious forces of natural selection have taken their toll, leaving dead evolutionary branches of cottagey craftiness, clean-lined suburban fascist simplicity, and Pier-One-fake-ethnosophistication. The layers of dust get a little thicker between cleaning binges each time. Part of me just fucking resents it, that oh-so-high-ceilinged apartment exuding the psychotic smugness of a bulimic actress between binges— looking at Scully like she’s the devoted ugly fat friend and pushing her to measure up.
Not that I’d ever spend a lot of time over-analyzing that kind of thing, and coming up with strained and revealingly jealous metaphors.
I know she still hasn’t fixed the mirror in her bedroom, or a lot of other things. Not because she’s told me, but because I’ve heard her getting quotes, seen her delicately chewing on pencils and figuring. No insurance company in the world would touch her at this point, and that fucking apartment probably sucks up close to half her net income just in rent. There’s probably a lot of things that have just gone undone, especially in the bedroom. The Bureau covered cleaning Donnie Pfaster’s brains off the hardwood, but I’ve deduced from one neatly organized list of ‘disaster recovery’ companies that their contractor must have missed some bits. I mean, it’s a possible birthday present— ‘I got the psycho skull fragments picked out of your stucco’— ‘oh, Mulder, you shouldn’t have’— ‘no, seriously, I should have, that’s fucked up having chunks of a multiple murderer’s brain pan in the ceiling of your living room’— but I don’t think it helps with her sense of place.
If anyone’s capable of that little bit of do-it-herself, it’s Scully, but that doesn’t mean she wants to. It’s evidence, and you can’t ignore evidence.
All this as a lead-in to why Scully’s in my bed, and I’m not. Simple explanation is that Scully practices defense in depth, immense depth, but sometimes the little redhaired general in the rear can tell that the front ranks may break and run if they have to look at the empty mirror frame, or the cheap-ass Walmart lamp that replaced the nice one.
This would be nine times in ten weeks since she sent Pfaster back to hell, not counting the two nights after my mother died and my front ranks broke and ran themselves. It’s more likely to happen if there’s some kind of easy out or excuse, like we just landed that evening, or it’s two AM when we look up from a pile of crime scene photos. She’ll nod her head down and close her eyes for a second. I just have to say something appropriate— ‘I’m not using the bed,’ or ‘Need to crash?’ both work, and I think we have it encoded enough by now that I could say ‘Horton heard a Who’— and she’d raise her face and half-open her eyes, mutter ‘thanks,’ and shuffle into my bathroom for nine lost minutes of mysterious female activity followed by ”night, Mulder.’ I never get a ‘good morning,’ she always manages to sneak out with a vaguely contrite expression around six AM when I am theoretically still asleep.
Then again, she knows that unlike her I’m a very light sleeper, so it’s probably one of those ‘she knows I know she knows’ things again.
Of course, this is on the list, the ‘things we don’t talk about’ list. It may as well have never happened before and will never happen again (on my knees in front of her kitchen table with soft, amazing, primal sounds whispering above me,) absolutely no reason for her to leave so much as a toothbrush or a change of socks at my place.
It’s a night like tonight except it’s Friday, and I’ve gone at least twenty-four hours without being a complete asshole. My abandoned couch gives me a leathery, invisible thumbs-up as I creep in there and lie down with her. Scully says ‘Mullerrrhmmm?’ and makes a little grumbly noise, to which I reply ‘Go to sleep.’ She snuggles herself up to me until about eight AM, at which point we allow each other to believe she’s snuck out of bed with a very soft kiss on my temple.
I wake up for real when she borrows the shower, and we make toast and talk politics and memories for a lingering hour or so. She’s got no makeup, her hair’s soft and flyaway, and she makes at least one comment about me staring at her. She insists on doing the dishes. I insist on drying them, just because I want to stand close and get some more incidental contact. She quietly goes on her way, and I get changed for my Saturday ballgame. After about twenty minutes, when I’m about to leave, she shows up at my door again.
She looks a little flustered because I was on my way out, and that wasn’t in the plan. I tug her into the room, close the door behind her. Scully gives me a very secret pixie grin that I know exists but have only seen on a very, very few occasions and which I believe may be entirely mine.
I take her back to the unmade bed and make love to her until she’s soft and fuzzy and dozy from head to toe, smiling and draped on top of me like a played-out kitten. The corners of my bedroom store up the echoes of Scully giggling and moaning and gasping her way through Saturday afternoon, saving up to recharge her later.
When we look at the clock it’s way after three, almost four. We scour my place for food, laughing our way into the shower together. It’s fun, sure beats decontamination. Scully snaps a mean towel. We drive out to some mega-multiplex theater in the suburbs and see a dumb movie at seven-thirty, just because. There’s a weird giddiness in our trip to MegaDrone Heights, like being tourists. We’re white gods, her beautiful and expensively shod, me tall and armed. Every time I make a smartass comment, Scully gives me a little backhand slap on the arm and takes a sip of her diet Coke. She grabs the popcorn once I’ve eaten the butter off the top, and we don’t even think about whether there’s any reason for her to go back to her place that night. We make love again, serious this time, in the dark, one of us on top but close, so close, coming close together.
Anyway, that’s sort of how I have it worked out in my head. But it’s Wednesday, and I am pretty sure the asshole meter went off sometime today.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Well, at least we weren’t on television this time,” she says, sipping tea. It’s odd, she thought, how we sit here looking towards the television even though it’s off. Did cavemen look at empty firepits?
“Think what it would have done for Bureau recruiting if we were,” he replies, holding his hands out in front of him in a frame. “Look hot. Carry laser guns. Today’s F-B-I.” He tried for James Earl Jones, failed.
“You thought those sunglasses looked hot?”
“Well, you looked pretty hot,” he says.
“An MA in psych, and you fall that easily for the juxtaposition of women and phallic power symbols.”
“We know what’s in hot dogs, but we still eat them.”
“Yeah.” She wraps both hands around the mug. It’s shaped like an alien head. He’s got nine mugs from different municipal police departments, one Reticulan trophy skull. She’s not sure whether the fact that she always gets it is a needle, an endearment, or just because it’s at the front of the cupboard and is the only one that’s been used in the past three years. “Mulder, did we actually help?”
“What do you mean?”
“Would it have been any worse if we hadn’t been there?”
“Yeah,” he looks thoughtful, “yeah, I think so. Let’s be totally realistic. Say, if everyone does the smartest thing, and we know how likely that is. Darrell Yamato dies, all that happens is the whole thing gets shut down.” He pauses. She can see him reaching. “No one, um, gets any closure. I think Phoebe’s probably better off now, I mean, emotionally, in the long run… don’t you?”
She tries to look very serious.
“Closure. We’re in pursuit of closure.” Serious begins to crack a little, a gentle tease spilling out. “Other people’s closure.”
“I’ll take it over the pursuit of other people’s fertilizer permits. At least we knew what we were covered in at the end there wasn’t organic.”
“Organic slime’s worse?”
“Oh, yeah, definitely.” It is a subject he feels uniquely qualified to pass judgment on. “With chemical slime you know you’re alone.”
Her tea is gone. She seems to miss the prop.
“Was nice going out to the Bay Area again,” she offers. He nods.
“There’s that. That sushi place was really good.”
Sushi was her influence. She thought he’d appreciate the immense potential for weirdness. She liked how it felt in her mouth, silky fish and papery seaweed, though the flavors were too subtle for her dulled palate. She’d wanted to pay him back for Thai, for introducing her to furious chilies in Christmas colors, fish sauce, limes, fried garlic. Things she could taste now, both new and reminding her what food had been like now that the sting of the memories had lessened.
“I forgot how much I like it out there,” she says, her voice drifting. “Seems like we’re in California once a month, but I forget.”
“I have a friend in Berkeley. Should go visit him sometime.” There’s no reference to I/me/we, the sentence foreshortened. “You remember…”
Her head nods forward once in what might be an affirmative, but her eyes close. His face softens, when she doesn’t see he looks gratified, satisfied, some kind of positive -fied. She yawns and blinks heavily. He reaches out, not exactly tentatively but carefully, and places a hand on her shoulder, gently rubbing into the muscle. She wiggles her upper body a bit, quietly enjoying it.
“All yours,” he says. Horton Hears A Who, he thinks.
“Mmm.” She shrugs her shoulders gently, lightly throwing off his hand but giving him a quick, small, sincere smile in compensation. “Thanks, Mulder,” she says very quietly.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
I do remember. Awkward, one of those simple possibilities we find ourselves woefully unequipped to face. Mulder had gotten a wedding invitation last summer, very short notice, three or four weeks. He mentioned that his friend, whose name is still escaping me, had ridden him a little about never dropping in when a case took us out to Northern California. Mulder had, in a very, very roundabout way, broached the subject of us going out there for the wedding, because we were both on the verge of losing some use-it-or-lose-it leave. No fun going alone, he said.
My first thought was that it did sound fun. Meeting people in a meaningless way, listening to other women talk. Cool white wine. Mulder putting an arm around me a couple of times during the reception, his jacket on me when we leave and it’s chilly. It was also within weeks of the baseball incident, so it’s entirely plausible that we both had, or would have, other things in mind.
My second thought was horror at my first thought. We don’t have fun, Dana, the then-still-new scar on my belly told me. We just have less awful. This with Mulder, this is what we do because everything else we try turns out worse.
Taking off a dress worthy of a sophisticated wine country wedding reception, revealing delicate, expensive things. Mulder lolls back on the bed in dress pants and unbuttoned shirt, watching me move, directing me with serious eyes. I thrill quietly, leave my shoes on. Roll my shoulders back more than necessary, concern myself with how my hair falls. Could even a very new scar convince me that wouldn’t be fun?
Why would it be fun this time? It’s not fun, it’s like… so many other things we’ve done. Like a clash of weapons, like suddenly going to war. Forgetting everything in the terrible intensity of the moment. Knowing that right or wrong, for better or for worse, there is nothing else like this.
At any rate, on the wedding day, if I recall correctly, I was in Africa.
I don’t think he ever looks under the sink; if he did he wouldn’t be able to resist mentioning the collection I’m developing down here. Toothbrush, deodorant, shampoo, all hiding behind the X-files crash cart (bandages, a stitch kit, and painkillers from minor to party-strength.) This time I’m leaving dental floss behind. No cosmetics, though, nothing strictly optional.
This is for emergencies, after all.
There’s a small, strange woman in the mirror. She’s going to be in his damn bed while he sleeps on the couch, because she can’t shoot her own apartment, which lately is decorated with Donnie Pfaster in the living room, a Tennessee rattler under the pillow, and a bunch of things that only her credit cards remember buying. And Mulder’s falling down on his end of the deal by doing a lousy job of making the bed; it’s impossible to convince myself that this really is nothing.
Meanwhile, if— to be honest, probably when— there’s an “again” it’ll be against a rental car,
(trying to lookout over his shoulder until keeping my eyes open is no longer an option)
or on his kitchen floor,
(he says a certain word that I didn’t know I liked and I feel myself turn into honey, I’m knees on linoleum and where we join and nothing else)
or under a blood-temperature shower
(we’re alive we’re alive we’re alive)
in a dizzy-hot Southern motel room like a coy flashback to the first time that mattered. It’ll be hot words and dares and darkness, no soft goodnights like the one I’ll hear in about three minutes. As long as you turned away from the other person to get dressed, does it still count? Does that mean you have to apologize when you snap at him, or take it personally when he shoos you off to do the dull but necessary?
What if I thought it was not merely possible, but plausible, to strip, put on the shirt of Mulder’s that’s hanging on the back of the door, peek around the corner, and beckon him into (his own) bed. Smiling, start with a smile, not one of the vaguely terrified looks I’m afraid we give each other in the moments before impact.
No confessions, no tears, no feigned looks of mutual amazement, no tearing silently and desperately at each other— except for the baseball incident, of course— I’ve heard that people do things like that, sometimes more than once if the first goes well.
I smile at myself in the mirror. It looks fake, strange. I look tired.
I’m tired. He’s tired. We had one of our odd half-conversations where we intersect at right angles, not our best foreplay. What if I just invite him to bed, chaste, spoon into him and tug his arm around my waist. I’ve done that (once,) we’ve done that (once,) we can sleep like that (once.) We wouldn’t be lying there uncomfortable and strange like a new couple would.
And it would feel so good. Maybe better than any sex we could summon up right now, even if that were plausible. Plain, simple, separated from everything else, from laser guns and decapitations, from Mulder’s burning desire to dash off in search and my cold one to… to not do what he’s doing, it would feel so very good.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
—— 4 ——
TITLE: Home From the War AUTHOR: Khyber E-MAIL: DISTRIBUTION: Ephemeral, Gossamer, please ask for anywhere else. RATING: PG-13 CATEGORIES: Withheld. KEYWORDS: Withheld. SPOILERS: I think we’re all fairly spoiled at this point. SUMMARY: Khyber Versus Season Seven— alternate episode in place of “En Ami.” Otherwise withheld.
Disclaimer: Hurry up and make XF2, or I will. I have action figures, a digital camera, and a dirty, dirty mind.
Produced by bugs Edited by Cathryn Fuller
I strongly suggest reading the following vignettes (available at http://www.khyberfic.net/Khyber) prior to reading this:
“Collapsar” “Weret-hekau” “How Gravity Works On Planet Spooky”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Federal Special Security Detention Unit Arlington, Virginia May 10, 2000 0911 AM
They were dying rapidly. It could have been that the prison regime did not agree with them, but Mulder knew that wasn’t the case. The Englishman was crippled with Parkinson’s, he’d heard, another died of stomach cancer three months before. It wasn’t the ills of their generation, either. These were men with nothing to live for. Animated by the dark energy of their work, they would have gone on for decades. Without it, they were nothing.
“Special Agent Mulder.” The guard nodded at him. They’d built a special wing for them, in the end, or more properly, refurbished an old one. America’s Nuremberg, the trials had been called by newspapers in places where a sense of history was intact. Cable news had flailed, unable to compartmentalize and encapsulate, Mulder remembered. It had been a newspaper story— or, as it happened, one for a book.
“Fox. It’s good to see you again.”
The man’s name had never been particularly relevant and had changed many times. Mulder knew two of them, one from the Sixties and one from the Nineties. As part of a series of small bargains that had to be made, he’d stood trial as Defendant Two. Mulder still liked Cancerman: Dana’s name for him from years before.
“Enjoy it. Last time.”
Cancerman’s hair was snow white, his skin unhealthy. He looked tiny. There was a bandage on his neck now where a lesion had been last visit; metastasis was setting in.
If Mulder thought he could tell Dana he’d been there, he’d pass on the update.
“But you so enjoy these gloating sessions.”
The demon was still in the old man’s dark eyes and slight smiles.
“Actually, you’re right, I do.” And I don’t know how I’d tell her that, he thought. Mulder fished his badge out of his jacket pocket. “But, as of noon Friday,” he said, flashing it at the cancerman for the second time in their lives, “this goes back in the Cracker Jacks box, and they won’t be letting me in the front door anymore.”
“Noon, Agent Mulder? You’re slacking off.” Defendant Two settled back in his chair in an obviously calculated parody of smugness. “It’s good that you’re out of the game before you soften up completely.”
“We’re going up to the Vineyard for the weekend. We want to beat the traffic.”
“Good choice. Do you still have Bill’s boat out there?” he asked. “It’ll be chilly on the water this early, of course, but it’s just nice to be out.” He paused, immobile in the absence of a cigarette. “So this is the end, then?”
“Yeah. I just wanted to come by and share the warm feeling. And maybe gloat a little.”
“I assume Agent Prezwalski will be taking over the X-Files?”
From their tone of voice the two could have been mistake for professional colleagues, never personally close but familiar with each other.
“Technically no, he hasn’t got enough years in. Skinner’s going to work something out.”
“I’m curious to read your book,” the cancerman said. “I’ve ordered a copy over the Internet. I save a lot of pocket money now, they don’t carry my brand and I’m trying to cut down.” He chuckled. It was a grandfather type of joke, carefully thought of and used over and over.
“Should have let me know.” Mulder gave the joke a polite nod. “I could have signed one for you. Want to know how it ends?” The old man nodded acknowledgment of Mulder’s retort.
“So what will you do? Is Agen… Dana quitting too?”
“No, she’s happy in Quantico for now. I’m going to be busy with promoting the book for a while, but we’re thinking of starting a family.” Mulder paused. “We’ll adopt.”
Silence hung between them for a few moments in the absence of smoke.
“It’s never over, Fox.”
“Maybe not.” Mulder leaned forward. “But it’s over for me. It’s over for Scully. And it’s over for you.”
“Bill Mulder thought it was over.”
“Don’t even mention his name.”
The cancerman grinned. Mulder had seen dozens of death’s heads, the ones taken by rivers, fire, neglect. Defendant Two retained enough of the dark animus of his kind to light his decaying face.
“You know what Trotsky said about war, don’t you.”
“The war’s over.”
“Only a battle, Fox. The war’s bigger than you ever imagined.”
“You should get some new material.” Mulder stood up, slamming the chair forward. “Well, somehow I imagined this being more fun.” He shook a carton of Morleys out of the plastic bag. “Guard!” The young man opened the door, stepped into the room. Mulder shoved the cigarettes into the guard’s hands. “Make sure he gets these.” He strode towards the door, face darkening. “And make sure he smokes them all, he’s got places to be.”
“Fox!” the cancerman called out. “One thing. Roger, the envelope I left for him… Thank you.” The guard nodded, dropping the carton of smokes on the table, and handed Mulder a small envelope from his breast pocket. Mulder felt a small metal object inside.
“Something irrelevant,” Defendant Two said as he rose stiffly on his side of the glass. His shoulders were slightly stooped, as if the cancerous dissolution of his lungs was causing his chest to collapse inwards. “A small remaining piece of a puzzle that you’ve finished to your satisfaction.”
“Goodbye,” Mulder said through a stiff jaw.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
FBI Forensic Research and Training Center Quantico, Virginia
The woman standing at the front corner of the lecture theater opens her beckoning cell phone, speaking a singular name in response. She is petite, slender under a white lab coat. The coat is an affectation, she knows, there is nothing within a hundred yards requiring hands-on pathologising. She feels a need for slight eccentricity, a way to remind herself (but not anyone else, no vanity) that she was there.
“Hey, it’s me… guess I missed you this morning.” She smiles at the sound of the familiar voice, rolling blue eyes a little in response as if she were speaking face to face.
“No, you definitely said “gurmph,” which I count as an acknowledgment. Are you still at home?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m… I slept in a little. You could say the motivation’s a little lacking. I got some great news this morning, though. I’ll tell you when I see you. It’s a surprise.” The woman laughs quietly. His voice is gravelly, sleep-tinged, makes her want to ruffle his hair. She has a longer drive to work than he does, and lately their order of rising has reversed as his days become more relaxed.
“Speaking of lacking motivation, my lecture hall is filling up here. I’ll see you this afternoon for the…?” A pause, looking for the proper word.
“The mutual fuck-off party?” he offers.
“If they ask you to say any words, please don’t say those.”
“Okay. I’m still not planning to wear pants, though.” She turns her back to the rapidly filling classroom, keeping a secret.
“Hmm. Boxers or briefs?”
“Commando,” he says, low-toned and mock-sensual. The woman grins, glancing over her shoulder and tucking a lock of reddish-blonde hair behind her ear. It’s a complicated gesture, one she didn’t know she was characteristic ally hers until he started doing it for her, claiming it as his own. Formerly automatic, solitary, now it reminds her of him.
“On that admittedly inspiring note, I have to go.” Dana Scully whispers an acknowledgment to his farewell and takes her position at the front of the classroom. “Good morning everybody, and welcome back to Anomalous Forensic Pathology. As this is the third lecture of the term, we should, by now, have lost the weaklings… that’s why I led with the animal decapitations last week…”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Office of Assistant Director Walter Skinner 1042AM
“Agent Mulder, you’re late.” His conditioned reflexes failed him, having to take extra steps to get to his chair between Prezwalski and… that’s right, there’s three of us again. Agent Peter Petersson. Minnesota by way of California, farm parents who thought they were funny. He’d come after Susan died.
Mulder nodded at Prez a little sheepishly. Joe Prezwalksi was shorter, younger, with a barrel chest and the pug-nosed, brutal face of a minor Roman emperor. Mulder realized that his partners and boss were staring at him, waiting for a response to Skinner’s remark concerning his punctuality. After Susan died. Susan died. It banged around in his head, sharp-cornered and rattling.
“Sorry, I didn’t know you needed to see us till Joe called me,” he said. “What’s going on?”
“It might be easier to show you than anything else…” Skinner picked up his internal phone, punched a button. “Kim, could you bring them in please?” Mulder looked over at Petersson. The young blond man was trying to conceal a smirk. The main door of the office opened and a procession of a dozen suits began, as did the applause.
“Oh, you bastards, what is this…?” Mulder began, feeling his face flush. Prezwalksi slapped him on the back as they rose from their chairs. Skinner stood up and rounded his desk, picking up a translucent object that had been concealed inside a file folder.
“Special Agent Fox Mulder,” he began, “it is my deepest honor to present to the outgoing head of the X-Files division this plaque commemorating ten years of service, not just to the Bureau but to your country. Your record of honesty, of absolute integrity, and your pursuit of truth and justice have inspired many people, myself included. I want to wish you all the best out there. You’ve earned it.”
SPECIAL AGENT FOX MULDER
HEAD, X-FILES DIVISION
Agent Joseph Prezwalski
Agent Susan Chartres — We Remember
Agent Peter Petersson
The etched-glass plaque also carried that picture, the one that had been above the fold on several dozen newspapers eighteen months ago. Special Agent Fox Mulder on the witness stand, on his feet, pointing at the man who had ordered the death of his father, of the woman who would have been his sister, who had watched as his blood sister wasted away in a regime of experiments that the doctors of Dachau could only have dreamed of.
The day they won.
Mulder looked at the plaque for a few moments, gently tapping it against the heel of one hand.
“Um, do I have to… I don’t know what to say…”
Deputy Director Boson saved him, briefly, with a comradely clap on the back and a firm, practiced handshake.
“Agent Mulder, I’m sorry I won’t be at the reception this afternoon, but I really wanted to be able to thank you personally for all you’ve done, and recognize your important contribution to…” Blah, blah, blah. Mulder glanced around the room, trying to think of something appropriate to say, looking at his partners. Prezwalski who… Petersson who…
Great, I’ve retired at 39 and developed Alzheimer’s, Mulder thought. I can’t think of a damn thing to say about any of these people. I look like a complete asshole. Susan Chartres is dead, damn it, but I can’t remember how she died. I barely remember her face. I remember freckles, blonde hair…? Or are those Dana’s freckles? I think Susan sailed, or rowed…? Or are those Dana’s strong shoulders, Scully’s sea?
No. It wasn’t water, it was horses. She knew how to ride horses.
“Ummm… you all know,” he started, “probably because I’ve pissed you off, or made your life impossible, or gotten you in indescribably deep shit at some point over the past ten years, how important the X-files are, were to me.”
No. Prezwalski, I remember, he thought.
“Look, Mulder, I respect Agent Scully’s ability and her experience.” Nothing intimidates Prez; Mulder is practically shouting, leaning forward, trying to maximize his six-inch height advantage, and Prez doesn’t even notice. “But her name is not on the door anymore, and as I understand it, that’s the way you two wanted it.”
Later, somewhere in the Midwest, after the funeral. They’d had a few drinks, intentionally medicinal, nerve-settlers. Prez had had a crush on Sue’s youthful energy and her ridiculously long tanned legs, hassled her for her country music and seemingly endless parade of marrying, spawning cousins. The last couple of months there’d been something growing in her, she was hassling back, took the Lord’s name in vain a few times. Deep down they thought she might have appreciated a wake, even if she wouldn’t have thought of it, and so they were still drinking.
“What do you believe in, anyway?” Mulder asks. He knew how Prez acted— dedicated, a little hard. His jokes could come off mean. He didn’t know where Prez lived, what kind of car he drove, and they’d never had this conversation before. Mulder’s slung out in a motel chair and Prez is lying on his back on the bed. The younger man holds his hands up, demonstrating a dichotomy.
“On one side… there is always one more bad guy, and he’s always got one more bullet. On the other, you know the Stooges? Iggy Pop?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s been a while.” The reference doesn’t surprise Mulder. On a thoroughly off the books, unofficial stakeout, Prez and Langly had held a frighteningly academic two-hour seminar on the history of California punk rock.
“Okay, back to the first side,” Prez begins. “The bad guys always win, because humankind is greedy and weak and self-involved and fuckin’ choking and drowning in a sewer of our own hypocrisy, and we are taught from the day we are born that drinking each other’s blood makes us stronger.”
“All right,” Mulder snorts.
“And on the other, there’s that moment in ‘Loose’ where Iggy screams ‘Brother!’ and you realize that anything should be possible.”
The faces in Skinner’s office all looked vaguely similar— male, close to his height.
“But the important thing is,” Mulder continued to his surprise audience, “I could never have done this alone.”
And I only remember Scully. I remember her little hands reaching into holes, I remember the conjuring scent of her close to me, I remember every stupid fucking time I made her come find me.
“There was always someone else there to, to keep me honest, to be the conscience, to save… to pull my ass out of slings it really deserved to be in.”
And she’s the only one I can think of right now. I’m really sorry, guys, I’m sorry Susan, I’m sure you’ve all done great work.
“And… so, thank you.”
Hands in front of him, arms around his shoulders. I hate this shit, Mulder thought, shaking hands robotically, but it’ll be good practice for doing it again this afternoon. DD Boson nuzzled up for a picture, mouthed something about taking care, excused himself. Mulder felt a space open around himself, moved towards Skinner.
“Sir, ” he began, leaning in towards the other man, “why isn’t Agent Scully’s name on here?” He indicated the plaque.
“Well, she’s not with the division,” Skinner replied quietly. “it’s been almost five years. Agent Fowley’s not on there either.” Mulder considered a moment before speaking.
“Sir, if it wasn’t for Scully I wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t have busted the Majestic. We wouldn’t be celebrating anything.”
“You’re right.” Skinner paused, nodded. “It’s been a while. A lot has happened, I forgot. I’ll make sure it gets changed.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
FBI Headquarters Reception Room 3 Late afternoon Fifty or sixty people buzzed to each other over plastic cups of soda; the Mormons’ takeover of the Bureau was almost complete. He’d leave battling that conspiracy to Prez. Maybe he and Scully could try having people over again, do this with beer.
She was coming in through the front door of the reception room, scanning efficiently for him. She was momentarily distracted by the poster at the front, carefully chosen newspaper clippings and photos which supported the mutual decision of Fox Mulder and the FBI to pretend for one full day that they liked each other. The milling, socializing crowd between them seemed transparent as they recognized each other, changed courses to intersect.
Known her seven years, been with her almost five years, five this fall, married for almost three, and he couldn’t go sixty seconds in the same room without touching her. His fingers tingled and his hands lifted almost of their own accord, muscle memory remembering how the space he was allowed gradually expanded from her shoulder, her back, to the occasional embrace, to the first time he touched her face. The first time his hands rested on her hips, the first time both his hands held both of hers, supporting her above him, expression on her face mixing wonder and pleasure…
“What?” Dana glanced over her shoulder as if he would somehow be looking at something else that she happened in the way of.
“I’m just happy to see you.” Her hair was longer than in the old days, falling just past her shoulders; a four-year abusive relationship with hair dye and hairdressers had finally given way shortly after the wedding. She looked slightly uncomfortable, but not entirely displeased, with his undivided attention.
“Well, that’s… fortunate.” The words limped out a little; she was a bit disoriented by his verging-on-goofy grin and the way his eyes were roaming around on her.
“Under the circumstances.” His voice was just over a murmur as leaned in very close to her and Dana glanced around, flushed between closeness and embarrassment. He had, over the years, developed a tendency to get sweet at inconvenient times— such as when they were surrounded by fifty co-workers. This was something, she realized, she should have foreseen in advance. Timing had never been his strong point.
“Okay, so you had great news.” She settled on temporarily distracting him and it worked. He fished into the inside pocket of his jacket.
“Yeah, you’re not gonna believe this,” he said, handing her a folded sheet of paper. “I got it from Erica this morning.”
“Erica…?” Dana asked, nodding at him as if indicating that he was being unnecessarily obtuse again and should just get on with it.
“Katzman? My agent? New York? Calls me baby, but looks at you?”
“Oh, right, of course. Slipped my mind,” she said, looking embarrassed and shaking her head as if to clear it. He unfolded and handed her the printed email with a slight flourish. She read quickly, breaking into a surprised, genuine smile.
“Mulder! This is amazing! A signing tour in France and Germany?”
“And a bunch of talk shows, which should be really funny given my extensive knowledge of French and German. Bonjour! Ich bin ein donut!” He mimed a big grin-and-wave. “I’m assuming they have translators. I didn’t have time to print the other one, but… she got an advance review from this weekend’s Manchester Guardian.” Mulder held up five fingers. “Fiiiive stars. So, she might be trying to book me some in England, too.”
Dana scanned the paper quickly again.
“These start in ten days,” she noted with definite excitement. “When are you going?”
“What do you mean, when am I going? You gotta come.”
“Mulder, I can’t just…”
“Can’t just what?”
“I’m in the middle of a session!”
“You’re the best advanced pathology instructor at Quantico. But they do have at least… five others? Even if it’ll mean a cruel end to a dozen student crushes?”
She sighed heavily, looking exasperated but knowing that he was, in fact, right. And she didn’t remember their last vacation, or whose cell phone rang first to cut it short. Mulder leaned in close again.
“Look, I know this is going to sound really sudden.” His voice was as quiet as it could be over the steady rumble of conversation in the room. “But I was thinking, if you came, we could go look into that group in Amsterdam.”
“Yeah. Yeah.” He nodded, slowly at first, then more vigorously, breaking into a smile. “I’m done, I’m out. You’ve waited long enough. Let’s stop talking about it and do it.”
She bit at her lower lip, ducking her head suddenly.
“Mulder… can we talk about this later…?” What she’d wanted to say was ‘not here, damn it, you’re going to make me cry.’
“Okay. Okay. Later. We’ll talk later.” He let her step back, collecting herself.
“Yes, yeah, I’m okay. Thank you,” she murmured, reaching down to squeeze his hand.
Suddenly Mulder felt hands on his shoulders, flinched. He heard Petersson chuckling in his ear on the right, heard Prez making some comment off to the left. They steered him away from Scully, who’d cracked a sudden grin that almost covered the slight shine in her eyes. In his last glimpse before they spun him around, Mulder saw her discreetly wipe a tear with the corner of her sleeve.
“Now you’re gonna get it, brother,” Petersson laughed.
Assistant Director Walter Skinner was sitting in a folding chair, just finishing tying up the second of a pair of very old, very beat-looking vintage combat boots. He rose with an exaggeratedly serious expression.
“Agent Mulder. I just had one more piece of official business here, in the unlikely event that I don’t get another chance before Friday… turn him around, guys… Cameras, everybody?”
As the room roared with laughter, Special Agent Fox Mulder received his first and last official, literal, ass-kicking.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Maryland State Highway 302 West of Baltimore
A last few wisps of foul curling black smoke streamed up into late spring sky. State troopers waved a slow, rubbernecking single lane of traffic on its way. Yellow tape snapped in the wind, already whipped part loose by the stiff breeze.
“Okay, you have my attention.” Skinner looked across the highway median at the burned-out hulk of the van, then turned away to cut the wind noise in his cell phone. Roasted plastic and burnt tire stunk across the road; fortunately, nothing else. The van had been empty when it was torched. The plates matched the information he’d been given— registered to the State Department, a State drone on the line with the Maryland highway patrol flailing and insistent that the plates were on a sedan.
It was just as Spender had said it would be, at least so far. Just as Spender had described exactly what had been on the gas station’s security video: three or four men scuffling with Mulder and Scully, Scully firing at least one shot. But the torched van was a cheap decoy, if that’s what it was. It would take days for the FBI labs to figure out if there had been so much as a single dyed-red hair or sunflower seed shell in there before the flames.
“It was as I said?” the smoker’s voice crackled over the line.
“Close enough. Have you got a point here, or are you just providing play-by play?”
“I can help. I want to help, Mr. Skinner.”
“What do you want?”
“We need to co-operate. I have the information, but under the circumstances I have limited resources to act on it.”
“What’s in it for you?”
“This is a personal interest. We need to meet, soon.”
“I’m needed here.”
“That trail will go cold. It’ll take you days to verify that Mulder and Scully were in that van, and by then it will be too late. You’re about to hit a diplomatic brick wall. You will find it difficult to pursue this investigation through proper channels with the speed required.”
Skinner sighed inwardly. Too late for what? He’d been waiting for that. The flustered State man had told the Maryland highway cops that the plates were leased out to a foreign embassy; he’d held out, wondering if Spender knew as much as he pretended. It appeared that he did.
Spender’s voice on the line was surprisingly urgent.
“I already know who’s responsible, Walter. We just need to find out where they are.”
“All right, fine. Where do I meet you?”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
They’d parted to make the appropriate connections. Mulder needed to shake hands, and Scully needed to remind people that she was, in fact, still alive. Quantico was, for all intents and purposes, a parallel universe. Mulder was finding a rhythm to the niceties, found something to say to everyone. It wasn’t going nearly as bad as he’d imagined things like this would.
Then he saw Scully across the room and remembered Susan dying, the imperious ‘fwump’ of the bomb. There’s no such sound as ‘boom.’
They’d unknowingly, partially thwarted it through classic X-Files disorganization. Prez said it was a miracle the three of them could manage to end up in the same state. As usual, they’d arrived in Dallas separately, renting too many cars so the only one they got at was Susan’s. It had been white, and the back end had bounced six feet in the air like a hotrod as an orange and black blossom flowered out the windows.
Susan’s eyes were blue. The rest of her was gold tarnished with soot, but the eyes were sky-blue like Scully’s. She was shaking, and shared the look of horrified surprise that had featured in dozens of Mulder’s nightmares. Even with (god don’t look down, keep looking at her face don’t let her know) one of her legs gone Susan’s body, with all her cowgirl muscles, was so much heavier than Scully’s. But the dead weight of Scully would have sucked the whole world down, a black hole at the heart of the universe, and when it was Susan all he could think of was how glad he was that it wasn’t her.
But he still couldn’t remember Susan’s face. Just the eyes, whose eyes? and the impression of gold.
The Bureau is a notoriously whitebread, colorless bunch, Mulder considered, but I never forget a face even if I want to. Skinner, Prez, Petersen, Danny, Luis, Cindy, I see people I recognize, but…
He’d started to like this feeling less over the years, his antennae going up, his internal hounds baying as the chase began. Mulder had had to sit down for a minute, finding the blur of people around him slightly exhausting. Everyone looked unfamiliar; it was like going to the mall on Christmas Eve, on Mars. He remembered his swooping in-and-out trip to Hong Kong, the guilty days-without-sleep thought— ‘I’ll be damned, they all do look alike’— and how madly disorienting it was to know no one. He’d had a mission, then, someone to find, something to follow.
Now it felt like he just had her, a little golden connection across a room filled with blabber and churn.
“So this is it.” He started a little as Prez sat down next to him.
“Yeah, so it seems,” Mulder replied after a second. When Susan died, he remembered, Prez took vacation leave the next day. He had a brother and a sister who ran some sort of vegetarian hippie pizza joint in Austin. They were the only other human beings Mulder had ever heard Prez talk about, and that’s where Prez went every single vacation. He’d come back and say he’d spent two weeks chopping onions and roasting eggplants, as though he’d been to a mountaintop in Tibet.
“I wish she was here to see… no, fuck seeing this. I just wish she was here.”
Back in the grieving motel, Mulder snorts a harsher laugh than he’d meant.
“The Stooges as the embodiment of hope? So what’s that, sort of optimistic nihilism?”
“No, man,” Prez lies flat on the rented bed, talking to the ceiling. He could drink lying down. It was a weird trick. “I’m here for the fight, brother, win, lose, whatever. They put me up against the wall, I’ll be singing ‘White Riot’ ‘cause they can’t beat that. Someday, end up like Susan, either like that, or metaphorically speaking, fifty-year-old guy break my neck stagediving.” Prez’s blunt head lifts, and a hand. He points at Mulder, a half-inch of warm beer wobbling in the bottom of the dangling bottle. “You, you actually think you’re gonna win. Should figure out what you’re gonna do if that ever happens.”
The reception room seemed to quiet slightly as Mulder concentrated on Prez. The celebrants all seemed to fade, except for the flare of brilliance he knew was there, just out of sight. “Yeah.”
Mulder knew this should the time for some kind of private torch-passing, some way to tell Prez that it was all his now. How do you explain shared experience; how do you remind each other of the things that only you know?
Their work on the X-Files themselves had been short, barely a year before they got their big break, the tip that turned Blevins as a Pentagon plant, and from there blew the military’s “alien abduction” conspiracy wide open. Since then it had been all-out war, in a bureaucratic sense— interviews, counter-interviews, secret meetings, surveillance, hearings— but had he and Prez ever gone neck-deep in a sewer? Had it ever rained frogs on them?
And where was the gap? Where was the time without her? He could feel her voice over the phone, alone in a motel bed in the middle of the night. They drift, into and out of the X-file, whatever case she was working on, something about home. He flirts with her and she gets quiet, choosing words carefully. She lets him play, spin himself up, and then with a soft husky sentence or two she cuts him loose, stuns him with something he’d be surprised to hear her whisper in a heated bed, much less crackling over fiber and switch.
But what number did I dial…?
“So Prez,” Mulder began. “Out of all of them, out of all this shit we went through.”
Mulder packaged up the sentence in his head, repeating it to himself twice, letting it absolutely fill his mind. The question. Nothing else. Think of nothing.
“What’s the worst one?”
Prez didn’t respond, sipping from a plastic cup of cola. Mulder waited five, ten seconds, pressing down hard on his own mind, trying to think of nothing. The room seemed to still.
“Anyway, I’m gonna go kiss the hell out of Scully in front of fifty co-workers and see if she punches me out.”
(Red dress and watch for the left? Why am I thinking about…)
“Go for it.” Prez was suddenly animated. “Watch for the left.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
She found that she liked hearing it that way now, that slightly distracted greeting. He can’t wait to get to the good part. I know he’s got something to tell me, Dana thought, something that isn’t about our life, something that might come with slides and aging reports that someone misinterpreted.
I can’t, and probably never will, she realized, decide if I really miss it.
“Mulder,” she says, a bit of a tease of how she’d have said it back then.
“Who were you just talking to?” He nodded towards the woman she’d been with.
Scully glanced sideways.
“What do you mean?”
“Who was that woman?” he asked.
“That was Amy.” He shakes his head. “Petersson’s wife Amy?” she reminds him.
Mulder’s met Amy, probably a hundred times, she thought. He’d seen her, I’m sure, before she and Peter ever met. I’m certain that I did.
“What’s she doing here?”
“She works here, in technical services. She’s a network administrator, something.”
“Scully, the Amy I think I know is Japanese, and she’s a chef.”
She glanced around the room before stepping closer. This was Spooky distance, what gave them away to the casual observer. “Either you’re sleeping together or you’re both Greek,” someone had said, years back.
“You’re not making any sense,” she murmured into the little space between them.
“Yeah, I know. Can you help me prove I’m just losing my mind?”
She looked down at the carpet for a second, then back up at him.
“Why stop after all these years?”
He chuckled in spite of his tension.
“Okay. Everyone else you talk to, I want you to try and remember how you met them.”
“What?” She glanced around again. Of the old ways, being the interpreter for that first moment when one or more people decided that the tall guy was probably crazy was the one she least wanted back.
“Please. Just do it.”
She can feel her cheeks flush as he closes the remaining distance. Something’s gotten into him, she thinks. It’s been four years but I remember this. I saw him scanning the room; he has a picture in his mind of something happening somewhere else, and it’s where he’s trying to be.
Except that he’s not moving, not taking that step past her and forcing her to turn around and decide whether to follow or not. He’s standing right here.
So it’s not exactly like it used to be, she thinks. Mulder’s decided to say goodbye. Her professionalism loses out because he looks like he wants the kiss so badly. She tries to keep it light, sweet, something you could do in front of the children, but he’s determined. It’s lovely and deep, not chaste but not something to make onlookers uncomfortable— a means of communication between a mated pair. It’s the way an old movie might end, and when they break apart she leans her forehead against his chest for a second. She tries and fails to hold in a smile as she hears scattered applause and good-natured encouragement.
“Agent Mulder, what are people going to say?” she whispers, only half-joking.
“Why?” He kisses her again, gently on the forehead this time. “You’re not married or something, are you?”
“You don’t have to come to work on Monday,” she says with gentle reproach.
“I have to go do something. I’ll call you in a bit.”
Fox Mulder walked out of his own party and, for old times’ sake, left her behind to explain.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Mr. Skinner. Nice to see you again.”
Skinner wondered where clandestine meetings had taken place prior to the invention of parking lots, with their distracted anonymity and easy cover. He looked at the older man. Old man, he realized. Spender’s hair was going silver-grey, his face starting to fall. His skin was yellowed.
“You’re not well,” Skinner said. He had no intention of favoring the old killer with a greeting.
The older man looked thoughtfully at the stub of cigarette between his fingers.
“Funny, that.” He dropped the cigarette on the pavement. Spender had looked smaller when he was healthy. Now he gave an impression of ruined physical power, a man who knew fists and knives as well as triggers. It was as if the illness— cancer, Skinner imagined— was burning him down to his essential element.
Skinner glanced around the lot. It was a vast sprawl fronting on an expanse of big-boxes, hopelessly banal and clogged with cars and suburbanites. They, or anyone else, could hide in plain sight anywhere.
“All right. What else do you know?”
“Why don’t we go for a drive? It’ll be quicker that way.” Spender gestured to their two nearly identical sedans— which one? They were driving the same damn car, Skinner thought. He jerked his head towards his own.
“I’ll fill in what I can, but I warn you.” Skinner locked his own car after retrieving a briefcase. “You’re going to have to endure some of my ramblings. There’s nothing a man of my age likes more than a captive audience, and I’ve missed the chats we used to have.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Craddock Marine Bank Washington, DC
“Scully, it’s me, I’m going to be another, I dunno, hour or so, I got something to finish up here.”
“If Joe and Peter have you at a strip bar to celebrate, tell them I’m getting Danny to trace this call and coming down there packing.”
“Hmmm… if that was, hypothetically speaking, the case, what would you wear?” He could practically hear her eyes roll. “No, look, are you on your way home?”
“No, not yet, I’m finishing something up too. Mulder… I did what you asked this afternoon, and uh, we need to talk.”
“Yeah. I’m thinking that too. Okay, first one home calls for dinner?”
“We were gonna stop doing that.”
“It’s either that, microwave burritos again, or that ham in the freezer that we bought, like, last year. Besides, we cooked on the weekend. It’s a start.”
“Hi…” Mulder began. He had been last in line, and the young receptionist at the information desk appeared to be giving him a bit of indulgence on account of a fondness for tall guys with big noses. “Look, I’m sorry to be the guy who makes you stay late, but, uh, is this one of your safety deposit box keys?”
“Let me see…” She looked at the tag number, clicked at her keyboard. “Yes, there’s an instruction on this one. Can I just…” He already had his badge out and ready. She seemed impressed. “Yes, Mr. Mulder, or Agent Mulder is it?”
“What kind of instruction?” he asked.
“Well, you,” she said significantly, “are the only person allowed to open it.”
“Well, that’s… that’s convenient.”
“If you just want to wait over there, I’ll have it brought out.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Dana Scully and Fox Mulder’s Home Evening
“Korean?” she mouthed silently at him, phone on hold on her shoulder, as he came in the door. She hadn’t been there long, was still wearing her jacket, little shoes carelessly discarded in the hallway.
We’re not painting it five different shades of white, he’d said. Eggshell Dust. Vacant Nothingness. Bolivian Powder. Arctic Baby Ass. (Babies are pink, Mulder.) To his surprise, she’d agreed with an unusual vengeance. The living room turned out red, the kitchen a sandy gold. She looked glorious, unconscious of her brilliance. That was why he’d wanted to do it, paint the house a bunch of crazy gemstone hues. He loved seeing Scully against color, seeing her pale skin and bright hair, eyes clearly blue from ten paces. She brought a different light to every room.
“Hey.” She clicked the phone off, meeting him in the living room. He switched on the lamp beside the couch after she came in, as if he had done it only for her benefit and would have stood here in the dark otherwise.
“Hey,” Mulder said distractedly. He took off his jacket, looked as if he was thinking about tossing it across the back of the couch, changed his mind. He brushed gently past her to hang it on the end of the banister instead, running a hand down her arm as he went.
“Mulder, what’s wrong?”
He had left an envelope sitting on the stairs. He handed it to her. It was slightly yellowed and had the dry feel of age.
“I need you to look at this and tell me what it is. I’m not going to say anything.” The enveloped had never been sealed and bore no markings. She pulled out the single sheet of paper inside. It was typewritten, the arrangement of numbers and letters arcane to most but not to her.
“It’s a… it’s a paternity test, an old one, dated 1975.” Her eyes widened. “My God, Mulder, you’re the child listed here. According to this, your father is a… CGB Spender.” She snorted. “That’s a funny choice of names. CGB. Isn’t that some bar in New York? Did you show this to Prez?”
“No, not yet. Is it fake?”
“Well, I mean, obviously, but it’s well faked. It may have been faked at the time.” She studied the paper again. “These HLA tests are yours, or at least they’re statistically very likely to be yours, but that doesn’t mean anything. Give me an old typewriter and I’ll make Elvis your father as long as no one checks his HLA. “
“Why obviously faked?”
“Mulder, where did you get this?” she asked, her voice digging gently.
“I… went to see the cancerman.” He stared at his socks. She leaned against the wall, collecting herself, eyes closed.
Mulder responded with a surprising earnestness.
“Honestly, Scully, I think I wanted to gloat. I took him a carton of goddamn Morleys, told him to smoke himself to hell. I wanted to tell him I was quitting, that I was going to dump all this shit forever, and go home to my wife while he spends the rest of his life hacking up blood in a cell. That I won, and now I was collecting.”
“In your favor, that was admirably self-centered of you, Mulder. I didn’t think you had it in you. I wish I had thought of it myself.” She shook her head, choosing her words and clearly trying to control her anger. “Of course, I haven’t completely lost my mind. What, did you think he wouldn’t have one last parting shot for you?”
“Why would he? It’s over.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” she shot back, incredulous. “He’s a bitter, sick old sociopath. Look at all the things he did to us or tried to do to us over the years. He probably had this cooked up years ago, for some scheme he never got to pull and he’s just throwing it out as… as one last banana peel, to try and trip us up for a twisted laugh. You knew your father.”
She held up the yellowed document.
“This is one piece of paper, Mulder.” She didn’t want to slip back into this, into her versus him, and tried to redirect her anger. “From the cancerman, no less. It’s part of some personalized psychological warfare.”
“Scully…” Here it was again, she thought. Years ago, so many times. It’s the need face, though he looks more ashamed than he used to. He doesn’t want to prove this to me, not this time. “The cancerman’s sick. He’s dying. He’s probably undergoing treatment at the prison. Is there any way you could…?”
“That’s crazy, Mulder.” She moved close. The paper rustled as she placed her hands on his biceps. You know who your father is.”
“What if I don’t?” His voice was almost a whisper. “Scully, I know he knew my parents before I was born. I… I know my mother had an affair, at least one, a long time ago. It’s… it’s possible. I’m not saying I’m part flukeman. And I know he’s fucking with me, whether it’s true or not.”
“And you’re letting him.”
He closed his eyes. She felt his voice deep in her bones.
“Let me do this. Let me drive one last stake into the bastard.”
Scully sighed, then spoke quietly.
“I’ll pull a couple of strings. It’ll have to be completely off the record, so you’ll be out of luck if you’re looking for child support.”
“Thank you.” Mulder’s arms wrapped around her, pulling her close. She felt tension releasing from his body. “Could you really make Elvis my dad?”
She gently leaned out of his embrace, moved to sit down on the couch. He recognized that it was her turn now, sitting down next to her.
“Mulder,” she began, breathing deeply once. “I had the strangest experience in class this morning. I knew the name of every single student, first try, all forty-two of them.”
“Is that… oh, wait a minute…”
“Right. The intake just started last week. I haven’t marked anything, I’ve barely checked the class list. I don’t remember ever speaking to or meeting any of them except three or four really keen ones.” Mulder didn’t make a comment about the first round of crushes, which she was half expecting.
As Mulder watched, Scully clearly made some sort of internal decision, her face taking on a slightly defeated expression.
“I did what you asked,” she said. “And I feel like there’s gaps. Gaps I can’t explain. I feel as if I recognize people, I know a few things about them, but only in a very few cases can I remember how I met them, or why it is that I know them.”
“Who do you remember?”
“I know who my coworkers are, but if you asked me to put a face to a name, or tell you what kind of clothes they wear, it’s… it’s strange. I can’t, unless I really think about it, and then I’m not sure that I’m not… not just making it up.” She’d finished the entire sentence without looking him in the eye.
“I know what you mean,” he said warmly.
She looked at him warily.
“Mulder, why are you smiling?”
“No matter what else is going on, I’m just very glad you’re you.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“After the incident at El Rico, things fell apart. They did not eliminate the Consortium, merely beheaded it. Over the past months, factions have developed. Work continues, some of it productive, some of it… less so.”
They were clunking through the last vestiges of rush hour traffic, back north and west towards Alexandria. Spender hadn’t lit up again, at Skinner’s insistence. Instead, the old man had offered him a cherry Life Saver after taking one himself.
Skinner took it. It had the desired effect— Spender seemed surprised.
“I was wondering why you weren’t slithering around anymore,” Skinner said. “You’re powerless.”
“Diminished. I prefer diminished. I like to think, possibly delusionally, of the lion in winter. But the work remains, no less. It must continue.”
“Why, so you can re-establish yourself? Become the shadow power again?”
“Because it represents the only hope for the human race,” Spender said with what sounded like tired conviction. It was the sound of a man who was sick of explaining.
“I forgot about all your noble motives.” Skinner changed lanes harder than he needed to, nearly skimmed the bumper of a minivan.
“Survival is the noblest of motives, Walter. You fought in Vietnam, didn’t you?”
Skinner snorted. The smoker knew that damn well; they’d had parts of that discussion before over the years.
“A classic example,” Spender continued. “Fighting a war over mere ideology, over a theory based on child’s toys? To keep the dominoes standing? Survival would have dictated we keep our blood and our treasure out of such a foolish quagmire.”
“You were there yourself, weren’t you?”
“Many times. ” Spender looked out the window, silent for a few seconds. Skinner knew the feeling. “I admit I was a true believer, at the beginning.”
“Weren’t we all. What’d you do, anyway?”
“I started out as an errand boy.” Spender popped himself another candy. “I ended up as a grocery clerk.”
“So,” Skinner said curtly, needlessly adjusting the rearview. “One of these other… factions. They have Mulder and Scully?”
“That’s correct. You should have played dumb longer, let me explain more. You’d learn, I’d enjoy myself.”
“Why were they taken?”
“I’m afraid I can only speculate, and I cannot share those speculations at the moment.”
“What’s the diplomatic connection? Why did that van have dip plates?”
“The project had branches, separate operations in many countries. Local arrangements were required. As the authority of the project was necessarily separated from the authority of the executive branch, the… managers of the individual operations grew in power and authority.”
“A bunch of warlords.”
Spender nodded as if to indicate that Skinner was not entirely incorrect.
“Not all planned for succession. Some died. Some were usurped by local lieutenants. As you guessed, we are dealing with such a faction now.”
“So where are we going?”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
They talk in or on beds. Theirs, motels’, Mulder’s old couch as a substitute. They’d established that on their first case together, forgot about it, re-established it when beds took on a new significance. It put him at close range, where he was reassured and less likely to pontificate or be cocky. She couldn’t pose, strut, cross her arms over her chest. It tied in with the single piece of useful advice from either of their families, Dana’s mother’s admonition to ‘never go to bed mad.’ That did, however, occasionally mean going to bed at four in the morning.
“If you like that, you’ll love this.” The thick hardcover was lying on the bed beside him; the jacket was stark, almost official-looking. “When did I write this book?”
“What are you talking about?”
“When?” he shrugged. “I cranked out, like, 120,000 words sometime in 1999, while working on the X-files, and it’s been edited and published already?”
“Well, it is pretty topical, the trial just finished last year and it’s been all over the media…”
“Yeah, but do you remember me writing it?” He stressed those last two words.
“Of course. You were in here day and night… I think… I…” I know what I want to say, she thought. You were in here day and night. But that’s just a saying, it’s shorthand, a way to describe something without thinking about it.
“That’s about all I got, too, Scully. Do you remember reading over my shoulder? Did I ask you for advice? I wrote over half my dissertation in longhand on a legal pad, I can’t think on a computer or a typewriter. Do you remember that? Because I don’t.” He picked up the volume, holding it in both hands in front of him. “How about this? I know this is the first copy, so what did I do to it?” He held it forward, leaned it against Scully’s forehead as if she would read it psychically. She brushed it aside with good-natured irritation.
“Well, you signed it. I’m sure I remember you signing it.”
“Uh-uh.” He opened the book towards himself, to the frontispiece, turned it around and placed it in her lap.
‘Forever yours – Dana,’ the neat, rounded, slightly girlish longhand read.
Mulder’s self-control seemed to loosen at her exclamation. His speech became rapid.
“Someone’s doing something to us… the cancerman, somehow, those fucking papers he gave me, he’s got people on the outside…” He got up from the bed, as if to begin pacing the room, then darted to the window and tugged open a space between two slats of the blinds, the way one would look for stalking black sedans or helicopters. She rose quickly, took his hand and turned him away from the window.
“Mulder, stop. I need to say something.” She tugged him back to the bed. He sat down on the floor beside it— close enough— and wrapped his arms around his knees.
“That’s it,” she said, gently pulling his hands into hers. “Maybe we’re… not okay.”
“What do you mean?”
“We have been through a lot. Separately, together. And we’ve never really… we’ve relied on each other for support. It’s not in our natures, either of us, to ask for help, or admit we might need it, or even accept it when it’s offered.”
“What are you saying?” He uncurled himself, climbed onto the bed to sit cross-legged.
“We’re war veterans, Mulder. Both of us.” Dana looked at the careful, caring face of her husband, the tiny movements that marked his emotion. She climbed across his lap, straddling him. The difference in their sizes had become something that marked the way they fit together, big and small losing relative meaning and becoming a set of possibilities and familiarities. “Just because we have closure doesn’t mean that everything is better now. Maybe we’re suffering from some kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome, now, when things are changing and we have to adjust. And maybe by turning to each other so much, we’re making it worse.”
Dana leaned forward into him, her arms stretching around his body. She felt deep breaths, dissipating nerve.
“Is there a psychologist in the house?” he asked.
She chuckled into his shoulder.
“Physicians, heal thyselves.”
“I’m a little out of practice, in terms of practicing anyway.” There’s a jumble in her head, a clatter of recollection. Dana it’s Walter, should go home, Mulder, suspended, held a gun on New York ASAC, fit for duty, counseling. “It’s nice to know you think we’re both crazy this time.”
“I think we’re both something,” she said very carefully. He chuckled once, leaning down so their foreheads touched.
“Yeah. It’s time to move on.”
“Dana, what I was saying earlier, about Amsterdam…”
“Maybe we just need a little more time,” she said.
“No, no, no. This isn’t the consolation prize. I want this life. We’ve been through this before. If I wanted to stay at the Bureau, I would. I’d have found a way. We’ve earned this life, we’ve paid for it. I mean, look, we’re paying for it right now. I don’t want to wait, Dana. I want to see you… see you have what you want, not have to wait for me to be ready.”
A long silence followed. Mulder had often reflected that it was a good thing he was relatively comfortable with his masculinity. When it came to Having Serious Relationship Talks, Dana Scully and her natural reserve wore the monosyllabic, wary male pants. He could almost hear her trying to formulate what she wanted to say.
“Mulder… what if I said I wasn’t so sure what I want anymore?”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“This is wrong, this is all wrong… how long has this been happening?” A label across the top of the ruggedized laptop’s screen read BOB. Parvati Kushraj’s voice had a trace of an accent that went with the long, straight black hair and dark skin. Her dusky coloring and fine features spoke of breeding, careful high-caste marriages. She had a straight, regal nose, elegant cheekbones, slender fingers.
“What?” The young man who peered over her shoulder had shaved his head the day his hairline started creeping back, but was still short of thirty. Ian was white, not quite living-indoor-pale but clearly of a technical mindset.
“This, here, and here. They’re correlating.” She tapped at the LCD. Her nails were efficiently short.
“No they’re not.” Ian rolled his chair over a few feet, tapped at a second laptop labeled ALICE. “They’re on totally separate streams. They’re not on the same transceiver, they’re airgapped.” Parvati rolled over beside him with a practiced little push off the floor that spoke of deep geek DNA.
“That’s crosstalk. There. Look.” She leaned in close, tracing a waveform on the screen.
“No way.” They were joined in the LCD glow by a third young man, standing behind them. Simon was Japanese, but his accent was pure SoCal. He was compact, strong-looking, fidgety and quick. He didn’t roll chairs around, hopping between them instead.
“No, Parvi may be right.” Ian rolled back to BOB. “This shit is fucked up.” Simon leaned in behind him. “There, see, that’s a good indicator of memory activity. With the state we put him in, that should be virtually flat, he shouldn’t need or want to go there. Parvi gave him a coloring book and he should be going through just filling in the pictures like a good boy. According to this, he is coloring way, way outside the lines.”
“Is that a problem?” Simon asked. Simon was hardcore engineering. He liked things linear, sometimes needed the possibilities pointed out to him.
“Uh-huh! He’s probably got a very, very strong memory. Someone who makes a lot of subconscious leaps based on that.” Parvi spoke slowly, tapping the end of a pen against white teeth as she paused in thought. “Inconsistencies will develop in any storyline we can come up with, that’s why they don’t take in the long term. Generally it takes subjects weeks or even months to figure out that anything’s wrong, and by that point our storylines are fading, they’ve done whatever we needed them to do, and their original memories are coming back.”
“But… Mr. Big Brain Bob here is probably already experiencing significant dissonance,” Ian added.
“That doesn’t explain the crosstalk, though, right?” Simon asked.
“No, but it makes it a lot worse.” Parvi rolled back from the terminal, arched and stretched in the chair. She was slender and long-legged, discreet curves and refined angles. “The truth is a virus; if they’re communicating somehow it’s likely that she’s going to start sharing his dissonant state, if she’s not already.”
“How are they gonna communicate?” Simon shrugged. “They’re right out of it. Are you saying one or both of them is, like, a telepath?”
“Everyone’s a telepath, man, even if it’s only with his cat. It’s just a question of degree.” Parvati shook her head slowly.
“I don’t understand the dissonance, though. We were really, really subtle.” She looked at Ian significantly. “I wasn’t even sure it would stick at all.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
FBI Headquarters May 11, 2000 0910 AM
Mulder noted that he seemed to have the run of the place in his last days. Kim didn’t even pretend to check Skinner’s schedule before waving him in with a smile.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Agent Prezwalski’s not around today, correct?”
“No, he’s… he’s not.”
Mulder felt his antennae twitching desperately. Couldn’t think of where Prez was. What did they have going on right now? Maybe he didn’t know— it didn’t really matter at this point.
“I’m supposed to have you look at this,” Skinner began. “It came down from the attorney general’s offices.”
Mulder stood in front of Skinner’s desk, took the sheaf of papers and began skimming through it.
“Nondisclosure agreement,” Skinner grunted.
Mulder flipped a few pages ahead.
“They don’t want me talking about anything that was in any of the X-files? Closed or otherwise?”
“Might affect national security,” Skinner said evenly.
“Apparently.” The older man’s lack of enthusiasm was clear.
“Fuck ‘em.” Mulder tossed the papers back on Skinner’s desk. “They already pulled my secret clearance years ago. What are they, gonna fire me?”
The AD smiled thinly.
“I was hoping you’d say that.” Skinner scribbled on the unsigned agreement with what Mulder thought was probably a degree of quiet satisfaction. He gestured for Mulder to sit down. “It really shouldn’t be ending like this, you know.”
Mulder shrugged, taking his seat. “You wouldn’t know,” he said. “Plenty of handshakes going around. Nice plaque. Boson said we should play a round of golf sometime.” He and Skinner both smiled at the prospect. Fox Mulder. Golf. “I don’t really care at this point, it’s… it’s over, let people remember things how they want.”
“There’s still a lot of work here that needs someone like you. I told them that.”
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound bitter, ‘cause I’m not. I know you did, sir. I’m sure if I wanted to, I’d have found a way.”
“You always do.”
“It’s different now, even at BSU or VICAP or something, consulting, whatever. I just… not how I work. I wouldn’t be able to stay away. It wouldn’t be any different.”
“The way you do things, Mulder, it’s because you live for them. You have a hell of a lot to live for outside the Bureau, Mulder. Go do it. That’s an order.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Dana barely remembered what her office looked like. It reminded her a little of her old apartment, set up like a stage for a show on which the curtain never lifted. She spent her hours in the lab, playing fire brigade on everything that didn’t fit the profile. “Send it up to Scully at Quantico” meant that it was inexplicable, and desperately needed to be understood. Her students knew to find her there, and it gave her a chance to show them real-world examples based on whatever was bled out, charred, crunched, or mutilated on her counter at the moment.
Something today had made her want to see it, though. It was as she’d barely remembered, and she wouldn’t see it again for a while. Mulder had bought the tickets to Europe anyway, one-way for now because his tour dates kept changing.
And, she was going. Dr. Banner had insisted on getting the leave form right then and filling it out, as if he was afraid Dana would change her mind.
“You have enough vacation leave, family leave, personal leave and whatever piled up that you could probably retire before me. Get lost, Dana.” He signed with a flourish. “Au revoir. Auf wiedersehn.”
“One thing,” he’d said, handing the form back to her. “You need to promise me that you will walk along the Seine, go to the Eiffel Tower, and do at least one other thing that might allow you two to be mistaken for normal people.”
She started slitting open ignored mail while trapping the phone between head and shoulder.
“Hi, sweetie. Are you at work?”
“Yeah, I… I just, we got some good news, and I wanted to share it with you.”
Her eyes ached slightly. They’d had a long, weird night with little sleep. She had told him very carefully that she was rethinking wanting to adopt, having children at all. He assumed that meant he’d ruined her life, a not entirely unfamiliar subject which, on average, took forty minutes to work through. He’d admitted going to see the cancerman four, five times including that afternoon. She’d forgiven him. Then he’d told her about his conversation with Joe, how Mulder felt he could guide his partner’s responses. It hung between them, too light and strange to dent the pillow. She found herself unable to make any suggestions, and it had brought her here.
It was a crazy idea, of course.
Blank. Blank. Oh, this one was too easy for her. Just be fine. A name, what’s a good name?
“How are Bill and Lucille?”
“They’re fine, honey.”
Blank, white, flat. Think about snow. She counted seconds in her head, thought about the structures of the human ankle and foot and how it would turn back into a flipper if we ever changed our minds about dry land. It’s one of her classroom digressions, leading off from a crucifixion.
“How is your teaching going, honey?”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
They had kept the basement as a point of pride, even though they could have moved to a floor with windows. But Prez couldn’t stand clutter, and they really did need more desks, so things had been reconfigured considerably. The old desk was gone; the filing cabinets had moved into the old lab space. The ceiling had been redone, and pencils no longer stuck in the tiles.
The flying saucer poster stayed; it was a signature. In fact, Mulder had had the idea of signing it, leaving some kind of message behind for the guys, but the fact of it was that he was a lousy coach and a worse mentor.
Peter said it was a little more like visiting your crazy uncle, who has a hot girlfriend and you’re not quite sure exactly what he does for a living, than having a boss.
“I’m just starting to get used to that. Can you say it, like, fifteen more times in the next two hours?”
“Not a chance. All the love you’re getting the past couple of days, your head barely fits in the door anyway.” Peter had an open, simple face, blue-eyed and Minnesota-blond. He had a cheerful aversion to formality, a friendlier version of Prez’s and Mulder’s constant, calculated insubordination.
“How’s Amy doing? Cooking up a storm?”
“I’m gonna tell Dana you said that, Flintstone.” Peter turned around from the computer terminal. “Amy should be up in her office later this afternoon, you should drop in before they throw your old ass out of here.”
Mulder leaned against the wall, crossing his arms across his chest.
“Listen, I was just up in Skinner’s office and he showed me this bullshit non-disclosure agreement they want me to sign.”
“Yeah, the national security one.” Peter nodded. “I signed mine last week.”
“I didn’t get the impression it was optional,” Peter chuckled.
“Yeah. Of course. I think it was his idea. He was the one who was talking to CIA…” Mulder nodded at him to continue. “I just really, really fucked up.” Peter had the look of a man who realizes he’s in over his head.
“Yeah, yeah, I think you did,” Mulder said quietly. Peter sighed heavily.
“It’s access,” he explained. “We do this, we get access to their classified files. Lots and lots of files. Did you know that CIA had their own version of the X-Files? Goes back to the mid-fifties.”
“And you guys were going to cut me in on this when?” Mulder crossed his arms over his chest.
“It’s recent, Mulder, it’s…” Peter stood up. He was practically kicking invisible shame-dust with the toe of his shoe. “Look, everybody knew you were winding things up and, it’s complicated. For, seriously, millions of people in this country you’re a hero. But there’s still a couple of thousand who’d like to give you a free midnight brake job just for old times’ sake. And we’re still going to have to deal with some of those motherfuckers to do our work.”
Mulder stood silently. The younger man looked as if he wanted to put his hand on Mulder’s shoulder and decided against it. The dynamic between them was wrong; at some level, Mulder really was the boss.
“I’m not you, Mulder,” Peter continued. “And I don’t want to be Susan, either.”
Mulder looked at the floor for a second, clearing his mind.
“Yeah. Look, I’ll, uh, drop in on Amy at the restaurant.”
“Do that, man, she’d love to see you.”
Mulder closed his eyes, and forgot about Peter Petersson; about the row of three computer terminals on the far wall; about as much as he could. He thought about the sound of her heels down the hall; she’s just left. He thought about pencils, and newspaper clippings, and that big old desk.
He opened his eyes, and a pencil clattered down from the ceiling.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Dana Scully and Fox Mulder’s Home 5:27 PM
“I’m in here.” Her voice drifted from the kitchen.
The wine surprised him a little, both for the time of day and the fact that she had by all appearances put away more than a half bottle herself, from a plain tumbler. In his experience, Dana tended to get girly and a little kittenish after two glasses, so she’d made herself almost exclusively a special occasion drinker.
She was still dressed for work, black pants and a soft, tight green sweater.
“Prez’s out of town next couple of days,” Mulder started, leaning in the doorway. “He’s testifying down in Raleigh. I, uh, left him a message, but didn’t really know what to say over the phone. He might call tonight.”
“Mulder…” She looked up at him, smiling faintly, looking down again. “You might want to sit down.”
“Do I need some of this?” He gestured at the bottle.
“You might,” she replied quietly. He was a little surprised that she didn’t sound drunk. She tilted the glass towards herself, looking distractedly into the dark liquid. “I did the PCR myself, Mulder. I can’t explain it. I crosschecked against… against your father’s autopsy records. I’m sorry, Mulder. God…”
The scent of wine reached him. No, what am I thinking? She drinks wine almost every day, she admits she has terrible taste, likes grape-jelly-flavored Australian crap like all the other yuppies. He can hear her saying it.
She stood up from the table, avoiding meeting his eyes, looking out the kitchen window at the fine late-spring afternoon.
“It’s possible that something was changed at the prison, that those test results have been falsified somehow. So I crosschecked. And, I can say that the overwhelming probability is that you… Bill Mulder was not your biological father. The, ah, the test results from the prison, compared with your medical data… it appears that the, that this man Spender, which is the name he appears to have been using in 1975, is…. Damn it, Mulder, it has to be a setup.”
“He’s my father. Cancerman.” Mulder said it like he’d observe that it was raining.
“No, Mulder, the results could have been faked at the prison, you said yourself he knew your parents, he may have known of your mother’s affair, he may have even known that you weren’t Bill Mulder’s child, and he’s playing on this, he’s trying to get some kind of revenge on you.”
“Just look at it this way. He was at the scene, he had motive, he had opportunity.” Mulder chuckled bitterly. “We’re not talking about an X-file here. We’re just talking about a goddamn selfish woman who manipulated and didn’t know how to love and…” He clenched a fist, looking distracted. He tried to think of when he had last spoken to his mother.
“Mulder,” she said, calmingly. “We’ll figure it out. We’ll figure it out.”
“What about Sam?” he asked. “You checked her, didn’t you.”
Scully nodded, silently at first. She’d barely needed to check. She knew her sister-in-law well, broken collarbone to blood type to DNA. Samantha had a handsome escort when Scully met her, a young Air Force captain who looked, as so many of these men had, deeply sorry. It was as though he’d only just realized that he was keeping an inventory of corpses for future reference, a dead encyclopedia of horrifically misguided science. Scully had taken the pen and the clipboard and signed for Samantha, while wondering if the young man would still look sorry with the ball point seeking his heart between the third and fourth rib.
“Samantha was your half-sister, Mulder. She was your parents’ child.”
It hit him then, seeing Samantha’s bones arranged on the table. Scully had tried to keep him out, gently, standing in his way just inside the doors of the morgue. We’re sure, Mulder, we’re sure this time.
Sister, Scully remembered, my other little lost sister, what kind of person does this make me that I’m glad you’re at peace I’m glad he’s at peace my god I’m glad you’re dead…
“This is insane,” Mulder shook his head. “I can’t even believe this.”
“There’s an explanation, Mulder. I’m sure it won’t be a simple one but there will be one. I’m sure it was part of some larger deception like I said, and he knew the groundwork was still out there…”
“That’s not what I mean, Scully,” he began. “I can believe that, that he’s my real father, at some level I can’t describe it almost makes sense to me, but…”
“What else are you suggesting?”
“I don’t know.” He rapped his fist lightly on the table. “It’s all got to be tied together somehow. Why else would this all happen at once? This cancerman bullshit? Neither of us knowing who signed the bestselling book I apparently wrote?” Scully could see him ticking off the list in his head, forming the connections. “You somehow knowing every student in your class, but not how you met any of our friends? Me being able to convince Peter that his wife has two different jobs? Me not being able to remember Susan Chartres’s face? I have a dead partner and I can’t remember her face, Scully.”
She looked at him strangely.
“Mulder… Susan…? I’ve never heard that name before.”
“Oh, shit.” He leaned his head back against the wall.
Scully exhaled hard, taking another surprising draught from the tumbler of wine. She stared blankly into a corner of the kitchen for a moment, as if gathering her courage.
“My turn,” she said, with a touch of false levity. “Have you met my brother Charlie?”
“No. No, I still haven’t.” Jesus, Mulder thought. She hasn’t mentioned Charlie in years. Wedding. He would have been at the wedding, wouldn’t he…?
“Neither has my mom.” Her eyes screwed shut and she pressed the glass against her forehead, her other arm wrapped around herself protectively as she leaned against the counter. Mulder rose from his chair and went to her, resting his chin atop his wife’s head and his arms around her body.
He felt Scully pull away from him slightly. She looked up at him with a strange expression on her face. Concentrated, yet surprised.
“Mulder… Susan… she knew how to ride horses.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Spender knew Chinese, apparently, or at least enough to be polite. Cantonese or Mandarin, Skinner couldn’t tell. He handled chopsticks well, too, shoveling food from a small bowl right into his mouth. Skinner tried to play along, conscious of being the tallest, biggest, and apparently whitest man in the large restaurant.
“Mr. Liu has a good position here. The Chinese do things differently. They say that if the sand on the beach in Madagascar held all the secrets in the world, the Americans would sent a robot helicopter to get it, which would never be heard from again. The Russians would send a submarine full of commandos, and the sub would sink. The Chinese would open a resort there, and every Chinese family that came there would take a few grains back in their sandals. In ten years they’d have the whole thing.”
“This is the resort on the beach?” Skinner asked.
“A small part of it.”
“Sharks in the water, Mr. Skinner. But we can be satiated, and we’ll leave the guests alone until we’re hungry again. He has his business, and we have ours.”
Mr. Liu called Spender Charles, or Charr’. He was in his late sixties or early seventies, barely taller than Scully, glossy-skinned and lean with a small round belly. He asked if they were enjoying their dinner, and made a minute or two of small talk with Spender in the smoker’s halting but apparently functional Chinese. When they were nodding at each other, Liu giving the signs of a busy host planning to move on, Spender said something else. Liu halted, nodded.
“Oh, certainly, you come in back, come for a drink.”
The door of Liu’s office was security-grade, Walter noticed, with two expensive deadbolts and an alarm. There was a notable absence of restaurant-industry magazines in the small room, which was well-appointed though windowless. The nodding, smiling Liu was heading towards an intricately carved liquor cabinet.
“The Bangalore group. They’re operating here. Doing work.” Spender’s voice was like a car bomb, demolishing the chummy, clubby politeness of the scene. Liu stopped short of the cabinet, turning towards them with a neutral, pleasant expression.
“Really! Oh, even with things as they are, that wouldn’t be a very good idea.”
“No, it wouldn’t.” Spender said, pretending distraction with a framed photo of Liu and some state politicians. It would be an equally bad idea to withhold any information regarding their activities.”
“Oh, yes, I can imagine.”
“Who’s their front here? Who does their arrangements?”
“Oh, Charr’ my friend, I don’t really know.” Liu had turned around from the opened cabinet. “I have nothing to do with them.”
“Of course you don’t.” Spender took a seat, uninvited. “That would be very dangerous. You’ve got a good life here.” He gestured around the small room, its hints of connection and expense. “Your daughter lives here, doesn’t she, with your grandchildren. Making the wrong kind of alliances is like catching a virus, isn’t it. The sickness spreads.”
The man’s lips tightened in something less than a smile as he nodded silent agreement. He glanced quickly, frantically at Skinner.
Skinner imagined himself as a shark.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Forgotten lights and half-history are scattered through the house, reverberation of questions echoing through the craters they left. A filing cabinet pulled open in the upstairs office, papers pulled out, one pile neat, one scattered. One examined wine glass outside a small china cabinet, three mates inside. Two gold-chased champagne flutes as well, untouched, not wanting to know. Photographs. One is of her, it’s his favorite, autumn, her eyes are bluer than the sky and her hair shames Vermont’s October leaves. She looks beautiful and wise somehow, and he imagines these eyes in a graceful old woman.
He didn’t know, did he take this?
Up the stairs, more photographs on the wall, unexamined in the dark. There is a window at the end of the hall and she remembers seeing him silhouetted in it, hands on hips, looking proud of himself for laying down the long carpet runner on the hardwood. He said he’d never actually moved in anywhere before, just kind of dumped his stuff. Almost nothing had come from his old apartment except the couch, now in the den— there was a little too much private history on that couch to allow guests to sit on it— and the coat rack.
The second door down the hall spills gold light into the darkened way, bright-seeming but surprisingly dim inside once eyes adjusted. The room is comparatively untouched, where they turned inside once the possibilities and familiarities of the rest of the house had been exhausted. They sit in the middle of the bed, both cross-legged. Dull, uncrested swells of nerve and exhaustion roll slowly back and forth between them.
His head is tilted forward, face down slightly. He completes his sentence, his hands resting on her knees. He looks up, meeting her eyes. Both their faces show streaks, signs of tears several times begun and ended. She nods slowly, negatively, in response and his face drops again. She leans forward, wiggling towards him slightly, her hands reaching forward to rest on his forearms. He can’t raise his face, he can’t see another negative, see another flash of dismay in blue eyes.
“Do you remember how we got together?” His voice sounds rough, as if emerging from a beating. “Not when Melissa died. After.”
“Of course, but…”
“No, I mean… tell me, describe it. When.”
“I don’t know what you mean, Mulder. Missy… Missy was still alive.”
Samantha’s bones rise in her mind, a little sister, we could have been four or even six maybe more with kids, yours and hers and maybe even ours but if you and she were here would there be a we…
“It was a couple of days after we got back from Missouri. The detective, BJ… Morrow. You had a mild concussion, and you spent the night at my apartment so I could wake you up. Otherwise it would have been the hospital. We flirted very, very hard, even by our standards at the time. You,” she says with a quiet, playful accusation, “made a comment about potential suitors needing to get hit in the face with an oxygen tank to get into my bedroom. I woke you up once by kissing you on the cheek, and you said my name before you even opened your eyes. I would have gotten into bed with you right there if you hadn’t been drugged. That was a… Wednesday, and then… it was crazy, on Friday you said, ‘let’s go to Maine for the weekend,’ like it was the most normal thing in the world. It rained and rained but we, uh, we had some lost time to make up.”
Breakfast in bed. He thinks of holding a strawberry for her fine teeth, a maple-flavored kiss, pulling open a lush terry robe to expose her trim body.
He didn’t remember that, but he wanted to so bad.
“It was after Modell,” he began hoarsely. “We stayed in Virginia that night, we were both just fried. We checked into this crappy hotel, we got a double, just figured we’d crash for a few hours and drive back early in the morning. But we couldn’t sleep, we were talking and you, uh, you went to get us a couple of sodas or something. I lost it, I just curled up in a ball, I was crying and… how I’d almost killed you. And you, ah,” he motioned abstractly with his hands, “you lay down with me on the bed for a while, until I got hold of myself. I went and took a shower, and I heard the door open, the bathroom door. It was one of those glass-door showers, hazy, and I could see you through it. You were naked, I could just see the colors. You were beautiful, Scully, you were so beautiful I was speechless. You got in with me and you said ‘we’re alive.’”
“Oh my God, Mulder, what’s happening to us…”
His movement was sudden and decisive, startling her as he turned and slid off the bed. He went to the doorway, his hand resting on the edge of the door for a moment and then pushing it closed, the latch clicking. He turned towards the bed, turned to her.
“Scully, I’m gonna sound crazy again. I want you to come with me. We’re going to go to the door, and open it, we’re going to go to your old apartment.” She opened her mouth to question, and Mulder held up his hands to silence her. He spoke slowly. “When we open that door, it’ll be the front door of your place. It’s summer, about eight in the morning. It’s very bright. It looks like… remember when your car broke down, and I came to pick you up four mornings in a row? It looks just like that.”
Car. I drove to work today, she thought. What color is my car?
“Are you with me? This is only gonna work if we’re both in it.”
“There’s no place like home,” she whispered.
Mulder opened the bedroom door.
She’d always liked how that place lit up on a summer morning.
“Well, here we are.”
“Wherever ‘here’ is.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“That does it, we’ll have to take them down and start over. Look.” Parvi waved at the screen and leaned back, rubbing at her eyes with the heels of her hands.
“What’s that?” Simon leaned in. She was clearly frustrated. Ian was tapping away at another laptop, referring to the screen marked BOB. He shook his head.
“I don’t know,” she grumbled. “If it was just one, I wouldn’t be so worried, but both of them, here,” she pointed, “and the crosstalk again, here… this isn’t good, or at least it probably isn’t good. This is what we’d expect to see from collaborating individuals, actually talking to each other, in an eyes-open test.”
“Like, people who are awake. Talking.” Ian added. “In, you know, audible words.”
An indicator on the screen jumped. Two patterns overlaid, interlinking.
“There, that spike, there’s no way of knowing for sure, but I would bet that what we just saw is him communicating a dissonant memory to her and then they jointly implement it.”
Simon’s eyebrows went up.
“One more time for the engineer here, okay?”
Parvi’s fingers poised over the keyboard. Then she gave up, withdrawing them.
“Pure guess? They’ve jumped right off the rail and they’re making up a new storyline as they go, based on some kind of shared memory.”
Ian rolled his chair over, brought up a different window in the display of Parvi’s laptop.
“Look at this. They’re both basically in creative overdrive here; this is what I would expect to see from, like, Jimi laying down ‘Machine Gun.’ They’re not just off the rail, they are On. The. Fucking. Holodeck. They’re probably ballet dancing on Pluto right now.”
Parvati snorted, chewing her thumbnail, and gave Ian a significant glance. He snickered.
“Yeah, that’s a possibility. What would that look like?”
“Ian, man, we don’t have time to start over,” Simon said urgently. “This is Smokey we’re talking about. We are on a serious operational deadline here.”
“We have a couple other reference points we can try to jump ahead to,” Parvati said firmly, glancing at Ian. “Increase the intensity, hopefully make them a bit less curious.”
“Is that going to work?” Simon asked.
“I don’t know, okay?” Ian said. “This should have been really straightforward if somebody had given us something even remotely resembling proper goddamn psychological profiles. That maybe y’know, mentioned ‘oh, Bob has an eidetic memory, Alice has an IQ of 150, and they’re both all lateral-thinky.’” Ian leaned back, rubbing both hands through nonexistent hair. “Look, I mean, does Smokey want it cheap, fast or good? We can try some stuff but it’s gonna suck. They might keep it more or less together for a week, a couple weeks at the outside.”
He looked over at Parvi, and she nodded an affirmative.
“I mean, Parvi is the best there is but we just don’t have the time or the background to put a good scenario together. This isn’t that Air Force rinse and replace shit. We got, what, another fourteen hours? The problem is that the less of a backstory we can build the less the new memories will take, both in intensity and duration.”
“This isn’t rocket science…” Parvati began.
“…it’s much, much harder.” she and Ian finished in unison. “Why don’t you go crash for a couple hours,” Parvi nodded to Simon. “When we get this sorted you can monitor while I curl up in a ball and shake.”
“Great.” Simon slapped his hands on his knees and stood up. “As long as it’s meatware and not hardware, it’s your guys’ problem. I’ll be in the crash pit.” He headed off to the makeshift rest area in an adjacent room, closing the door.
Ian glanced at the door before whispering urgently to Parvi.
“What are you talking about? Reference points? Intensity?”
“I just needed to get Simon out of here because I’m making this up and I’d rather Duamkasha didn’t find out I’m experimenting on his people.”
“Experimenting…?” Ian said cautiously. Parvi nodded.
“There’s no scenario, no storyline. The post-procedure suggestion will be there, the trip to your facility in Amsterdam. The rest is… we’ve been working with things at a lower level. The theory’s pretty amazing; I’ll fill you in on what I can. It’s more… we define the endpoint and let the subject decide what they need to believe to get there.”
“And this works?” Ian asked. She nodded again, firmly.
“I’d stop short of saying it’s a mature methodology, but the trials have been very promising.”
“Trials. Is this the first time you’ve done this live?”
Parvi gave him a little rueful smile.
“So we don’t know what Alice and Bob are doing in there. Besides that they’re apparently communicating.”
Parvi shook her head slowly.
“I’ve got an idea, though,” she said. “They’re in this together, right? Somehow?”
“I’m going to go in raw, direct stimulation, just to Bob. I’ll give him a danger cue, barely linguistic, right to the lizard brain. I don’t know what it’ll come out as, but I bet he’ll go running to Alice, or vice versa, and they’ll get all hung up and be less curious. I think we have the basics in there, maybe we can scare them back on track.”
“No scenario at all. Nothing. This is amazing shit.”
“Nope. Pure fight or flight. It sure isn’t rinse and replace,” she said with a note of pride. Parvati rose, heading for the double doors on the far side of the room. Ian followed. He tried not to look at her ass; he’d memorized it anyway. The doors were propped partially open with squashed-up bits of cardboard from computer packing cases, to make room for the two large cable harnesses snaking from the server machines. Bob lay on the left, tall and dark, Alice on the right, small and bright. Brown-eyed boy and blue-eyed girl, she knew— their eyes did open, at intervals. “We’ll make it all up to them, and see where they go.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Skinner’s phone demanded attention, and Spender paused in what had become largely a monologue.
Liu had given them a name, an assistant defence attache with the Bangladeshi embassy, and Spender was now waiting for a call with an address. Liu had seemed deflated when he and Spender left his restaurant, barely responding to Spender’s pleasantries.
“Walter. How’s it going?”
Krycek. Skinner turned away from Spender as much as the confines of the car allowed, trying a frustrated expression to put the smoker off. The older man stayed carefully, almost respectfully disinterested.
“I’m busy, Agent.” Skinner said. “What’s going on on your side?”
“You with Spender?”
“Do I actually need to answer that?”
“Just testing. You two make a cute couple,” Krycek said. “Spender’s practically alone, and desperate.” Skinner fought the urge to look over at the smoker. “He’s almost out of the game, needs you more than you need him. He can’t help you, or them. Make sure to leave your phone on and maybe I can.”
“Fine, I’ll look into it when I have a minute.”
Spender politely displayed no interest in the call as Skinner hung up. Skinner tried to think of some lame, dismissive line he could use, but had a vision of Spender actually sniffing, smelling a lie.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Dana Scully’s Apartment Date and time unknown
“I think we’re hypnotised, or in some sort of deep trance state,” Mulder said. He wandered into the middle of the living room, leaning against the back of the couch and looking around. “We’ve been given a series of strong suggestions, or storylines, and left to ourselves, we just fill in the details that we want. We don’t notice the inconsistencies until we hear each other’s version of the truth. You think your bedroom’s blue, or yellow?”
It seemed to him that she was temporarily following his lead, as she would if she had her own theory but was hearing him out anyway.
“How are we in each other’s deep trance state? And where are we really?” She looked around her apartment, peeked back out the door they’d just entered. Outside was the familiar old hallway; there was no sign of the bedroom of their house.
“For all we know,” Mulder said, flopping himself over the back of the couch and lying down, “we’re sitting next to each other in matching straitjackets having this conversation.”
“That’s a romantic and not entirely implausible thought.” She moved over to the couch and sat down carefully, perched on the edge beside him. ” But we can’t have been abducted, Mulder, you blew the program wide open.”
He chewed on his lip for a second, glancing around the room. It was perfect— or, it was just as he remembered.
“Even if I did, there’s still a couple of thousand people who’d like to give me a brake job. But did I?”
“What are you saying?”
“Scully, what’s the last case we worked on together, officially, in the field?”
She began to speak, then waited, looked puzzled.
“Well… this is… I remember being in autopsy bays. I remember working together.” She rested the flat of her hand on his chest. “I remember several instances of extremely inappropriate Bureau-funded sex in motel rooms…” Scully paused, her eyes downcast. “Don’t I?”
“I don’t either, Scully. I was thinking about this yesterday like I told you, when I was talking to Prez. The more I think about it the more it feels like a blank until we got the break on Blevins, what, three years ago. You’d already been off the X-Files for almost a year.”
She nodded slightly.
“Modell,” she said with sudden certainty. “Of course, it was Modell.”
“Let’s not let him waste another minute of our time,” he said quietly.
“We left the hospital,” she continued for both of them. “I was driving, in your car.”
“And then… I know what I remember,” he said.
“Do you think we were abducted that night and…”
“No, it doesn’t make any sense, it’s not consistent with any abduction account,” Mulder said, “except for that one Next Generation episode.”
Scully reached down to take his hand, pulled it up to hold it, both their hands resting again on his chest. She looked past him, out the bay window. Her old Mac was on the desk in front of it, little faint daylight shadows of the leaves outside rustling across it.
“Mulder,” she began, voice soft,“what if we’re dead?”
“Scully…?” She could feel him starting to sit up.
“As long as we’re entertaining extreme possibilities.”
Mulder gave what could be qualified as a slightly nervous laugh.
“So, this is, what, the ‘Last Temptation of the Spookies’?” He sat up, disengaging his hand from hers and sliding it back along her neck and jaw to tangle long fingers in her hair. He looked slightly incredulous. “As we speak, we’re squashed like James Dean in my old Taurus in a hospital parking lot?”
Scully rose, Mulder’s hand brushing down her shoulder to squeeze her fingers. She stood and walked to stand in front of her desk— examined it for a moment, then looked out the window.
“‘Where are you hurrying to?” she said, tugging idly at a curtain. “For you will never find the life which you seek; when man was created he was given death, and the gods retained life to themselves.’”
Mulder padded up behind her.
“Scully, did you just quote Gilgamesh at me?”
She allowed herself to slip back into the presence she could sense inches behind. Mulder’s body supported her, the back of her head resting just below his collarbone. It was a position, a familiar way they fit together. His hand was about to… yes, there it was, his right arm sliding around her body just above her waist.
“That I did.”
“Well, if it turns out that we’re not actually married,” he chuckled, “remind me to marry you.”
Scully gently pulled out of their pose and turned to face him, leaning back on the desk. She looked down, away from him.
“Mulder… what you said before, how you remembered that our first time, really, was the night after Modell.” She turned her face up to meet his eyes. “I have both memories now. Your way and mine.”
Suddenly she stumbled, her hands catching behind her on the desk. Scully lowered herself clumsily into a sitting position as Mulder fell to his knees.
“Scully, what’s wrong?” His concern seemed to be for her, though it was clear that his own collapse was involuntary as well. Scully tried to pull herself to her feet, one hand fluttering up at the edge of the desk.
“God, just… suddenly exhausted…” She managed to get to her knees before falling forwards into Mulder’s arms as Mulder was gradually lowering himself into a sitting position. He woozily managed to lower them both to the floor, side by side. “Mulder, wha’ss happening…?”
“Me too… Scully…”
—— 5 ——
TITLE: Coyote Luck AUTHOR: Khyber EMAIL: CLASSIFICATION: VA RATING: NC-17 SPOILERS: “Blessing Way,” “Paper Clip” KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully sex SUMMARY: Khyber vs. Season Seven. Post-ep/missing scenes for “Paper Clip.”
Disclaimer: 1013 owns it all. I just make them sad.
Author’s Notes: Part of “Khyber vs. Season Seven.” Intended to be read after “Home From The War,” even though chronologically this is the first point of divergence from canon.
Thanks to mims and Cathryn F.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
c o y o t e l u c k
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
April 29, 1995
The office phone clicks back into the cradle and he watches her study it. Her padded shoulders fall a little.
“West Virginia State Police. They found my car. It’s torched.”
“I’m sorry.” This will strike him later as a dumb thing to have said. He’s apologizing for a lot of losses lately, and using the same words for all of them.
“Yeah, well, it’ll be an easy insurance claim.” She checks the fax machine to make sure there’s paper.
“Did you report it stolen?”
She turns away from the fax to nothing in particular, about forty degrees away from facing him directly.
“I was kind of thinking of getting rid of it anyway,” she says, sounding distracted. “I never drive, and insurance is expensive.”
“Paid off in the end, I guess.” He tries to smile.
“I think I mostly just kept it to lend to Missy anyway.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Six days earlier Craiger, MD
She watched him, half-listening, and didn’t know how to tell him that she just didn’t care. Files. Tissue samples. Her file. Her tissue sample. She should care, except that would have forced her to try and make sense of what he was saying and acknowledge that he was, at least in part, talking about her.
His hands were touching hers, a lot, and she wished that she was sure it wasn’t because he was, at least in part, talking about her.
She starts talking about Missy, and that throws him off. He blushes a little, eyes darkening. He doesn’t like being reminded that he keeps forgetting about Missy. She remembers that his first thought was for her, he didn’t give a damn about Missy, just immediately leapt to keeping her safe. Bittersweet, you could say, remembering how a surprisingly cold fire of anger had lit in her belly when she first saw Mulder and Missy in the same room. Loopy sparks had flown between similarly off-kilter orbits while she rotated dull and steady.
Then she remembered how Missy had given her the bigger piece of everything since as far back as she could think, spilling the memory out to Mulder as it came to her. She brushed tears off her cheeks, crunched motel kleenex up in her fist. They’d had enough cash between them for one room, not wanting to use credit cards, not wanting to show up on the grid. Mulder sat stock still, dark and watching her. He seemed absorbed by her as she took over, talking slowly about her sister. She felt a tiny wriggly thing in her chest thrill at the undivided attention.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“We need to talk.”
He looks slightly uncomfortable on her couch as he says it. Like everything else in her apartment, it’s a stretch, nicer than she can really afford and more than she really needs. Maybe she’ll get rid of it too, though it won’t save any insurance money.
He drove her back from the DC impound yard, where she’d signed the papers saying they could do whatever they wanted with the wreck. West Virginia had faxed in more pictures of her car, burned to the frame. Mulder snorted that someone out at Langley has rage issues they need to work out.
She knows ‘about what.’
“What happened the other night.”
She liked that he dropped his keys on the shelf beside hers when they came in, doesn’t like his tone of voice now.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
If he’d been forced to make a guess before, he’d have blushed furiously and looked away. If pressed, he’d have said that he imagined she would be soft and yielding, curves and roundness, quiet, whimpers and moans. He’s taken aback by her violence. It’s not something he’s never had before but it’s not what he expected from her, not what he imagined. If he’d been asked, not that he would have told, he would have thought that it would take time to open her, gently submerge her with fingers and lips until she was lost and unselfconscious in dark depths.
He’d been wrong about everything, unsurprisingly. After the second kiss (where she was supposed to flush demurely and he would have to take over) she tackles him, pushing him back onto the motel bed. He’s Kali’s victim with all six of her arms trying to pull off enough of their clothes to complete the action of joining. He finds himself trying to slow her down, put at least enough space between them so that he can see her beautiful face. His hands go all the places they’ve never gone before. He finds her leaner than he had imagined, natural curves of her frame carrying less flesh than they should, the space between her hipbones stretched. He settles for all of her clothes and most of his, his shirt open but trapped on his back and arms. Her hips are working against him frantically, surprising wetness and the softest hair he’s ever felt on a woman brushing against his thigh as a small strong hand grasps him.
She finally gives an indication that she knows he’s there, glancing down at his cock in her hand and then up at him. Her eyes are wet, too, shining, but she has a tiny secret grin that breaks the moment a little. They both realize he’s bigger than she was expecting, or is used to. She bites her lower lip, eyes still locked with his, as she raises her hips and he feels himself nuzzle between neat, delicate labia. He hasn’t seen her except for glimpses down between them, but he imagines she looks like a girl, neatly closed and symmetrical. If he thought there was any room for negotiation or play he would take control, push her over, hold her wrists down to the motel mattress and go down on her, see and taste the prettiness he imagines. He imagines she’d laugh, curse him, but he can’t hear either of those things happening in the vacuum they’ve created.
She’s impossibly tight, like a fist clenching him but she forces down, taking as much of him as she can on the first stroke before her eyes screw shut and she has to rise. She angles her hips differently, leaning forwards more, and sinks down again. He feels himself disappear inside her.
It’s hazy after that. He remembers her breath harsh and labored, her nails digging into his shoulder, teeth on his chest and trembling thighs. Her voice did something deliciously terrible to the Third Commandment, leaving it stained and fragrant. His brain stumbled around looking for an explanation that didn’t involve Dana Scully having a wracking orgasm on top of him, didn’t have teeth and lips and nails and pretty little soft breasts, didn’t smell like sweat and woman-hair and sex. His body didn’t care, and responded to the long, grasping strokes of (jesus, Scully’s pussy) dragging him into the homestretch and across the line. He realized after that he’d said her name, one of them at least, and she’d responded with a breathy laugh.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“In case you don’t remember, I started it,” she almost snaps. He’d tried to take responsibility, apologizing again. “You certainly didn’t take advantage of me.”
“No, but, I… I should have stopped it.”
Of course it wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d wanted, as the little thing in her chest had burbled it would be. She’d thought it would be enough to decide it was her turn for comfort, he knew how she’d spent the past two nights in her mother’s haunted house. When he’d come in the door, the way he’d dropped his keys, she’d decided that she would ask him to stay. She would put her hands on his arms, look up at him. I want you to stay; stay with me, she hadn’t decided yet when he said that they needed to talk. From there, they had gone stumbling into where they are now.
“Do you think it was a mistake?” She hears herself being so careful.
“I don’t think it was the right thing to do at the time,” he mumbles.
There’s a long, long stretching silence. Navy Scullys had a reputation as solid and serious, not given to outbursts of rash courage. Dana carefully finds words that express about half of what she’s trying to say. She still feels like she’s about to throw herself off a thousand-foot cliff, hoping a pterodactyl will catch her halfway down.
“I… I feel something special with you, Mulder, and…”
No rush of great leathery wings, no mighty prehistoric caw. The ground rushes up at her as Mulder leans forwards, elbows on knees, briefly putting his face in his hands.
“Scully, my life’s just shit. I don’t… I can’t believe sometimes that you’re willing to support me through what you do already. I don ‘t want to take you down the rest of the way.”
She finds a mine shaft at the bottom like Wile Coyote would, slam down and ex-d eyes blinking in the dark.
“You’re right.” she straightens up, understanding stiffening her spine. “We’ve both… we’ve both got a lot going on. Anything else… professional issues aside… I don’t know if this is what we need right now.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
He can feel waves rising and falling in her, each a few minutes long. She stiffens with uncertainty, probably regret, then it rolls out and her body softens against him again. When it happens he presses his lips against her hair. He’s uncertain if it’s helping, but he doesn’t want to experiment by breaking the cycle. He wonders if she did what she thinks Melissa would want her to do.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“You can’t fuck a man into loving you, Danes,” Missy slurred, puffing out smoke. “Nope.”
The reception was slipping into the sloppy, smoky phase. Ties and a few uncomfortable shoes discarded, inhibitions loosening, the crowd down to brothers, sisters, cousins, friends. An unbalanced swirl of dancers gradually split into dyads, choosing targets. They sat side by side in chairs at the edge of the floor. Melissa was usually up for dancing, but tonight appeared to be for drinking. Dana rarely danced, didn’t like liking eyes on her, hands trying to land on her hips.
“Thanks for that really useful advice.” It came out more bitter than she’d meant.
Bill Scully’s girls were running out of cousins to hide behind. Missy’s thirtieth had slid past, and Dana’s was closer than her twenty-fifth. This afternoon had been Missy’s turn to be the last bridesmaid on the outside. She now had her second useless dress— one up on her younger sister, but Dana had strapless three-quarter-length sea-foam on deck for September.
“Yeah, what have you got?” Missy set the empty wine cooler on the floor next to her chair with exaggerated drunken care. Dana’s little rosebud mouth turned down.
“I broke up with Daniel,” she blurted.
Missy nodded, reached across to take Dana’s hand.
“Good. That was a fucked-up situation.” She felt her little sister’s head on her shoulder, felt the vibration of a sniffle. “Love’s terrible, in the old sense of the word. Magnificent and overwhelming. All shall love me and despair.”
Dana’s head rose off her sister’s shoulder. She sniffled again, reaching across Missy to retrieve the nearly forgotten cigarette from her sister’s other hand. She took a drag.
“What the hell does that mean?” she exhaled with the smoke.
“Oh, fuck, I don’t know what I’m talking about. What I’m trying to say is, you can’t do anything about love, and that’s why it’s the most wonderful and terrible force in the universe.”
“Yeah, but I’m your big sister. You have to listen to me.”
—— 6 ——
w h e r e i e n d a n d y o u b e g i n
TITLE: Where I End And You Begin AUTHOR: Khyber E-MAIL: DISTRIBUTION: Ephemeral, Gossamer, please ask for anywhere else. RATING: High end of R for violence and mature subject matter. If this was TV, it would definitely have to be HBO. CATEGORIES: Withheld. KEYWORDS: Withheld. SPOILERS: Ummm… yes. SUMMARY: Khyber Versus Season Seven. Alternate episode to “Chimera” and Part Two of “Home From The War.” Otherwise withheld.
Disclaimer: Hurry up and make XF2, or I will. I have action figures, a digital camera, and a dirty, dirty mind.
Produced by bugs Edited by Cathryn Fuller
This is Part Two of a two-part ‘episode’ that began in “Home From The War” (http://www.khyberfic.net/Khyber/vs7.html). If you have not read “Home From The War,” I guarantee that this story will not make any sense at all.
I also strongly suggest reading the following vignettes prior to reading this:
“Collapsar” “Weret-hekau” “How Gravity Works On Planet Spooky”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Where I End And You Begin
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Wichita, Kansas 12 May 2000
Scully looked wobbly, watery through the back of Lorenz’s shield, lens, invisibility field, whatever. Mulder hadn’t seen the little man since his transformation. He’d gained at least six inches and seventy pounds, and and moved unsteadily with his new size. Lorenz was looking around, wondering where Mulder had hidden the girls, knew he had bare minutes to dispose of all of them before the occultation ended and the debt for his new powers went unpaid.
Lorenz’s creditors were not likely to be the forgiving type.
Lorenz couldn’t make himself completely invisible, just screen himself somehow through an arc of a hundred twenty degrees or so. He was carefully keeping that between him and Scully as he tried to search the room. He was moving slowly— Mulder realized maybe Lorenz’s shield wasn’t perfect, that motion might betray him.
Chance time, Mulder thought.
Mulder unfolded himself from behind the oil tank, almost falling down. He caught himself on his bound hands and scrabbled across the filthy concrete floor in a crouch until he was about ten feet behind Lorenz. Lorenz was moving slowly towards Scully now— he had a sword, a fucking sword, who the hell uses a sword?
“Mulder! Where are you?” He saw her head turning, side to side, wobbly and fuzzy through Lorenz’s field. Her gun tracked left, right, halted and dropped slightly as she saw Mulder. Lorenz looked glued to the ground, initiative lost; part of Mulder’s brain noted absently that Lorenz probably had to keep looking in the direction he wanted his field to work.
“Scully! Shoot at me, do it now!”
She pulled the trigger, aiming chest-high, watching Mulder flatten himself on the ground. The shot went off like a giant snare drum in the concrete space, short reverb ringing. Barely five paces in front of her something shimmered, pinwheeling glitter like a dust-filled sunbeam. Scully aimed at the heart of the flickering space and fired three more times, each burst of light from the muzzle quieter than the last as her hearing died. There was a sudden flash of greenish light in front of her.
She didn’t see Lorenz’s bleeding, pierced body shimmer into view on the floor, barely noticed the two little girls clinging to each other behind the big heating-oil tank. Mulder had dragged himself to his feet again, bruised, scraped, his hands roughly bound and oh so very dear.
He smelled like fear-sweat and dark, unclean corners as her arms swept around him. With his bound hands he couldn’t return the embrace but somehow that was how she wanted it, simply to throw herself over her husband, cover him.
“Don’t ever, ever do that again,” she whispered, burying her face in his neck.
“Okay,” he whispered back. “Okay.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Mr. Aziz Haq?”
The house wasn’t an ostentatious diplomatic residence, but rather a modest split-level dating to the mid-sixties. Skinner and Spender were dark-draped bad news on the front step.
Haq was clean-cut and small, in his late thirties. He was carefully neutral— Skinner imagined it was obvious they weren’t collecting for the high school ball team.
“Assistant defense attache of the Embassy of Bangladesh?” Skinner asked.
“Yes.” Haq’s eyes were flicking back and forth between the two men. Spender glanced significantly at Skinner, who discreetly showed his badge.
“FBI. We’d like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind?”
Haq took one step back into his house, holding up a hand and shaking his head with a tight smile.
“Gentlemen, I am very sorry, but I feel that I will have to consult with my Embassy’s counsel before…”
Haq staggered, tripped backwards on a child’s shoe before Skinner even noticed that the smoker had moved. Falling on the hardwood hallway floor, Haq rolled to one side with his hands clutching at his face. Skinner’s mind involuntarily replayed what he had missed the first time, Spender stepping forward, pushing himself off the door frame, his elbow smashing into the smaller man’s nose.
“Go upstairs,” Spender growled. “Make sure we’re alone down here.”
Skinner grimaced but said nothing, and mounted the carpeted stairs anyway. The house was short on décor; it looked like the furniture was rental as well.
Haq’s broken nose smeared blood on the floor as he tried to pull himself up onto his hands and knees. Spender’s foot moved, a practiced and accurate blow with the point of his shoe just under Haq’s ribs. The man gasped and fell prone again, writhing. Spender applied two more blows, bruising the man’s lower spine with his heel and driving the toe of his shoe into the tricep of Haq’s right arm, limiting its usefulness if Haq considered any uncooperativeness.
“Don’t be afraid of dying, my friend. I wouldn’t dream of killing you right now. It would be pointless, and not accomplish anything.”
Spender settled on one knee beside Haq as the latter gasped, trying to catch his breath. Spender noted that Haq recognized him, was trying to register his incomprehension. That was good; in future dealings the man would be paralyzed with uncertainty.
“Now, pain, on the other hand.” Spender took a small zippered pouch from his overcoat, began opening it. “Your people have good techniques for such things, for divining what lies hidden in the minds of men, or changing it. Our methods are more crude, suited for a larger scale.”
“But I did as you asked!” Haq coughed. “They were taken, our people are working with yours, they are undergoing the procedure as we speak!” He watched with clear panic as Spender calmly uncapped a syringe.
“If you had shared your knowledge before, none of this would be necessary.”
“The same goes for you,” Haq gasped.
“That’s possible too. But, unfortunately, that’s not how it all turned out. And right now, I’m the one with the needle.” Spender flicked the silver spike with a fingertip, dislodging a drop of transparent fluid, and settled a knee on Haq’s back to hold him still.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Mulder moved as if he intended to flop face down on the motel bed. She tugged at his shoulder, halting him and pushing him towards the bathroom.
“No, you’re covered in… whatever. Shower. I’m not going anywhere.” He turned to her, beginning to speak. Scully cut him off gently. “I know you had to do it, Mulder. You saved those girls.” Still, she wanted to scream. “Those bastards from the regional office wanted to apologize.”
Scully watched his shoulders slump. He thought she was angry, which she was, angry at him, which she wasn’t. Christ, did she remember this anger, a shattering slow-motion spiral burst pattern that required hard-silhouette suits, fierce bras, perfect makeup and time at the firing range to contain it. She remembered when it left, the very second, a strangely fulfilling emptiness like the aftermath of a sneeze.
What she had now, listening to Mulder start the motel shower, was just an echo of that anger— unfocused and nasty, wanting to punch someone. Skinner for letting Mulder go, Prez for not handcuffing him to a Coke machine in the regional office, a Kansas City cop, someone.
Fuck Kansas, Mulder thought, raw wrists stinging under the hot water. Bloody Kansas. Real rope burns are the worst, he thought. He’d experienced police-issue handcuffs, plastic military cuffs and about four kinds of rope, and for what was Mulder’s hopefully last non-consensual bondage experience Lorenz had gone with old-fashioned, skin-shredding hemp.
Even Kansas City was embarrassed to be from Kansas, and tried to move to Missouri. He’d said “occultation” and they’d thought he was talking about Ozzy Osbourne. No, astronomy, he’d said, dull Midwestern nods in response. Half these guys probably thought the earth was flat anyway. He’d run out halfway through trying to explain that it didn’t matter if it wasn’t dark out, it’s still happening anyway. He didn’t wait for Prez, just like he’d almost never waited for Scully, and it came out damn near the same.
He felt his calves shaking, tension release and being hunched for an hour in a crawlspace behind a furnace with two terrified nine-year-olds. Scully had been a half-scale Valkyrie, sweeping her fallen, gun-dropped, rope-burned, greasy-dusty warrior to the ambulance. She was all bright hard voice and bright sharp Sig, sleek and oddly deadly-looking next to the hulking, heavily equipped tactical goons wondering what they’d missed as she brushed by them.
Scully was even sleeker naked: woman-muscled shoulders, finely rounded breasts, neat small delta arrowing south. She caught and tugged the end of the towel as it flipped off his shoulder, leading him over to the bed.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
The boy spun around from his computer, drop-mouthed. He was eleven or twelve; the screen showed something with guns. Must be Haq’s son, Skinner thought. He’d heard an unpleasant sound from downstairs, wanted to keep the kid up here.
“Quiet,” Skinner growled. “Keep your mouth shut and it’ll be okay.” The boy’s face was comically slack, hypnotized by the gun. Skinner remembered shouting at kids, barefoot kids crouched down in hooches. Back then, he was all fired up, hoo-ah, locked and loaded. Now he just felt slightly sick. Back then, you didn’t realize you were fucking up until it was over.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“I think we’ve got them.” Parvi smiled. Her fingers traced down the LCD.
“Nice.” Ian nodded, looking between the two displays. “Simon, check this out… this is unreal.”
“Amazing.” Parvi did her stretch again, long legs arrowing out from the chair and her back arching up. Ian glanced carefully sideways. She caught him, and gave him a little grin with her eyes downcast.
“Not following.” Simon intruded.
“It’s not even crosstalk,” Ian said contentedly. “Check it out. Full collaboration, or at least I think it is. It’s… we may be the first to ever see this.”
“Too bad we can’t publish.” Parvi flicked between two windows on the screen, shaking her head.
“Maybe someday,” Ian said. “Things change, y’ know. If this was fifteen years ago, we’d be working on Russian spies, thinking this is the be-all and end-all.” Parvi nodded, as if it was worth considering. Ian indicated the half-open door, Alice and Bob behind it. “What do you think happened in there?”
“I’d love to know,” she said. “It’s something we’re just learning to do, how to… just push the deepest buttons, let the subject decide what it means.” Ian thought about how it was without Parvi— the ten or twelve mindless repetitions of the same dumbass story they shoehorned into all of them, the subjects drugged and drooling in their own laps while some failed shrink stuffed bad TV into their heads. “I’d love to talk to them, after. Find out where they were.”
“After we apologize, I guess.” Ian regretted that as soon as it came out. That was a sensitive-guy thing to say, maybe better to save for later when Parvi wasn’t surfing on sheer possibility.
“Don’t ruin my fantasy, okay?” Parvi said quietly. “Imagine the applications of this, someday.”
Ian decided to cut his losses.
“Look, I have a theory here, if you’re willing to listen.”
“Not that I was trying to reverse engineer your methodology here or anything,” he grinned, and Parvi returned it.
“Of course not.”
“But,” he said very quietly, glancing over to where Simon had lost interest, “I was looking at Bob’s readings and I think he’s onto us. I think he knows he’s not really where he thinks he is. He may not know this, consciously, but I don’t think the programming is gonna stick.”
“Based on…? How are you pulling that out of these readings?”
“I’d stop short of saying it’s a mature methodology, but…” Parvi laughed, soft and clear. Okay, she was saying. You win. Ian continued. “I’ve gotta go to the other site and make sure their travel arrangements are covered. Aaaand, when I get back, maybe I’ll show you some of mine if you’ll show me some of yours. I’ll hit Sub Street, taking orders?”
“And they say H1’s never get benefits.” Parvi grinned at him. It was good to be here again. She’d never quite understood what exactly happened that winter; she’d been in Karnataka on the project there, and one day the four American civilians there had simply been escorted out of the compound. “Veggie on wheat, the regular cheese, everything except black olives.”
“Jalapenos if they’re fresh, otherwise banana peppers?”
“You got it.” She saluted him with a pen.
“Drink?” he asked, pulling on his Padres cap.
Parvi picked up an empty plastic soda bottle and waved it at him.
“I got on the Code Red train this afternoon. The monkey, it claws at my back. Feed the monkey.”
“Baby. Let’s talk monkeys.”
“You, go, food, monkey boy,” she laughed. “Don’t take too long. I want to go over all this data with you before we have to blast the tapes, see if we can memorize our future Nobel Prize.”
Ian smiled as he got in the van, pumped up the Foos on the crappy rental stereo. He had been imagining himself and Parvi in a slow descending and narrowing spiral for the past few days, slipping closer and closer together. Tonight they’d be up until four in the morning going over the data; he could imagine the regret in he’d see in her big brown eyes as she hit the red button on the magnetic bulk erase. That was what put him in her league; you wouldn’t know to look at them, but he’d put in the months, a year of lunches in the R&E at the Fort, weird hours on ICQ when she’d gone to the project in India and the emailed uneasiness since Stuff Changed At Work last year.
He knew that look in Parvi’s eye when she saw the future, something one of the doctors her parents kept threatening to marry her to would never see.
Four in the morning they’d drive back to the hotel, wired on geek magik and Code Red. They’d talk about Alice and Bob, what brings people together like that.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Is he still alive?” Skinner asked.
“Very much so,” Spender said, straightening his jacket, “and will be none the worse for wear in a few days.”
“His son’s hiding upstairs,” Skinner mumbled.
“I said, he’s alive.”
They closed the door behind them. Spender’s casual air made Skinner want to shoot him, just on general principles.
“What am I supposed to say about where I got this information?” Skinner asked as the car door slammed.
“You won’t need to say anything,” Spender replied, clicking his seatbelt. “We’re acting on this ourselves.”
“You and me.”
“Yes.” Spender looked surprised. “Is that a problem?”
“How could it not be?”
“Walter,” Spender said, chiding. “How many deals have you made with how many devils? Drive, by the way, just get us back on the 95. This is a funny time to get squeamish, Walter.”
“Look, assuming…. that you really do, for some reason, have Mulder and Scully’s interests at whatever passes for your heart, give me the information and tell me what you need in return.”
“That’s not how it works.” Spender was dismissive. “We have to play by the rules.”
“Escalation, Mr. Skinner. Proportional response.” Spender rearranged his hands oddly, obviously missing the cigarettes Skinner wasn’t allowing in the car. “The people we’re working against today are people we may have to work with tomorrow. They have escalated the tension by involving Mulder and Scully, who they know perfectly well are of special interest.” The smoker settled for a weird, nervous gesture of smoothing his hair. “If you blast in with the full force of the law and expose their operations, well, then you have escalated tensions further, inviting reprisal. If we simply make it clear that we consider this particular activity intolerable…”
“So I’m supposed to trust you to go rescue them?”
“Of course not,” Spender said. “You’re coming with me.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
The sunlight was no longer leaking through the motel blinds. Mulder felt dozy, pleasantly dulled, pushed under by the warm weight of Scully’s upper body on his chest, surrounded by the girlsweat post-sex scent of her.
“You’re lucky you’re the hero of this movie, and not Prez,” she murmured, her words slurring together.
“The old-guy partner, last day on the force, one last call? We’d be cutting to me sobbing, in a black hat with a veil.”
“Old guy?” He feigned hurt. “I don’t see Keanu Reeves playing Joe though.” He felt her chuckle, squeezed her closer with one arm. You don’t realize how tiny Scully really is until you have her in bed, he thought, her naked shoulders barely wider than his forearm. “Fortunately it’s my movie, and I have my own action hero.”
“Mmmm.” She tapped on his breastbone with a finger. “They may have to cut out that last part.”
He moved his fingers up, gently caressing one nipple. She gave a little sniffly giggle, wiggled her shoulders in lieu of swatting him.
“I’m gonna hold out for the unrated version, I hear she gets naked.” He felt her settle against him, shifting to outright lying on him, one little ear on his chest. He knew she was listening to his heart.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Rizwan followed Parvati down the hallway. He was a big man, broad in the chest and thick-armed. He’d just finished getting two other men out of the country, gotten a third moved to a safe house in Michigan where he could rest up. He could feel his own feet lightening. When he was close to an operation, either just before or just after, it felt as if he was walking in glue, leaving footprints that anyone could see if they knew to look. Right now his shoes felt almost clean.
“Where’s Ian?” he asked.
Thirty hours ago Rizwan and his three men had gotten out of a van at a gas station on a Maryland interstate. One target had been filling up the car, the other inside it, fiddling intently with the radio. It was a bad start; they’d hoped Two would get out and go to the washroom or buy cigarettes— he thought she looked like a smoker, lean and made up— but no luck, so they’d have to get her out of the car somehow. Things continued to go wrong when Jai didn’t get into One’s line of sight, so the targets didn’t realize they were outnumbered four to two. Target One had his weapon out in fine time, but he hadn’t seen Jai, and the gun clattered to the ground as Jai tasered him from behind. One hurled himself forward, landing a wobbly but heavy blow across Rizwan’s cheek, and they stumbled together into a pile as One shook and gasped from the shock of the taser. Rizwan remembered frantically trying to throw the man off him as he heard a gun barking— he was the only one with a gun, so he realized it must be Two. He saw Sunil stumble and fall to his knees against one of the pumps, streaky blood smearing from his arm onto the cheerful yellow metal. He heard a female howl of frustration and popped his head up above the hood of the car to see Jai dragging Two out the open driver’s side window, his arms under her shoulders.
“Logistics.” Parvati replied. “Where’s everybody?” Rizwan said, disgusted. “This is a mess. Chimney should have more security on the site here, I wouldn’t have left if I’d known it was just the three of you.” He settled his hands on his hips, huffed with displeasure. “Things do not feel right.”
“We’re in Maryland. It’s his garden.” Parvati dismissed him. ” There’s probably a satellite or something right over our heads. Did the shipment go through?”
“Left Los Angeles this morning in a special dip bag to Mumbai,” Rizwan replied. “Is it working here?”
“We’ve had some bumps, but nothing with the technology.”
“Look Parvati, two years ago when I was here on another job, there was barely time to sleep with all the meetings and security was so tight I could barely go to the bathroom alone. Chimney had an army of his own. Now he’s got what, Ian and that other guy?”
“The subjects have badges, they’re FBI,” Parvati offered. “I think this operation might be outside official channels, low profile.” Technically she was in command of the program’s mission here, but her authority was purely official. She would have a very hard time getting Rizwan to obey an order that he thought was a bad idea.
“Oh, I’ve got no doubt of that,” Rizwan chuckled, cold. “But there’s low-profile and then there’s low-budget. They might not have taught you this in university, but this is not how these things are supposed to work.” Parvati gave no indication of having heard the slight. She was used to push-back from the intelligence guys back home; the older ones had even expected to be called ‘Uncle’ sometimes.
“Look, we got the boxes, right? We’ve got fifty neural transceivers now that the Pentagon group wouldn’t sell or trade us on account of the brown.” Parvati pointed at her face with a fake, pinched grin. “And it’s perfect, because we didn’t have to give up a thing, just prove that we have the capability. This is exactly where we want the Americans.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“Riz, I’ve got the thinking covered. You, you worry about the hitting.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Scully, what were you doing with the tactical team?”
She stirred against him; she’d been Scully-drowsing, still open to sensory stimuli but to all appearances out of it, usually with her little mouth open. He knew the difference was that a merely dozing Scully was silent, while a truly sleeping Scully had a wee occasional snore.
“I… I asked?” she murmured, blinking widely. “Joe, or Skinner…?” She felt Mulder’s shoulders tense, felt him sit up.
“The vest you were wearing… it fit you. They never fit you.”
They both sat up completely, Scully looking puzzled. Mulder was rubbing his hands in his hair, staring at the far wall.
“You’re right. How did I find out…?”
“Your gun, Scully,” he said, hands frozen on his head. “You had your Sig, the silver one. I thought you got rid of it after…”
(after pulling the gag down from my mouth, feeling glass cuts on my feet and my back an aching mass of bruises, I’m in the living room and Mulder’s mouth is on the “uuhhhhh” of my name, and…)
He watched her face go faraway, sad.
“Do you remember?” Mulder asked.
“We were in my old apartment,” she said, her voice rough. She paused, looked around the motel room. “Mulder, it’s happening again.”
“No, it’s still happening,” he spat. “Someone’s trying to distract us. That was all bullshit.” Mulder looked up at the ceiling, gaze flicking around as his lip curled. That was Bug Hunt, the search for the omnipresent Them. “They put us in this, this situation. Hey! Hey, are you having fun, you sick fucks?” he shouted. “You like to watch, is that it? Dammit!”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Okay,” Parvati said, flicking between two windows on her screen. “I’m going to have to go in and figure out what’s going on.” There were readings on there she’d never seen before. He knew, she thought. Ian was right. Bob is onto us, somehow, even if he doesn’t realize it.
“Go in?” Simon replied skeptically.
She’d looked at Ian’s work after he’d left, trying to figure out what he was seeing. She still wasn’t sure how Ian was analyzing Bob’s patterns, but there was a tremendous amount of action early on in the procedure. She had a theory, a very weak one.
“Real time. Voice of God. Or however they choose to interpret it.”
That was what Parvi really wanted to know. Who do you think I am, she thought, and what do you think I want? And can I make you want that too?
“Fuckin’… why?” Simon gestured at the screens. “This is a total mess, we should just rinse them out and bail on this.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this before, just theorized it might happen.” Parvati’s fingers drummed on the desktop as she took her bearings from the LCDs.
“Well, fuck, at least wait until Ian gets back.”
She crushed the end of the pen in her teeth, said something non-English under her breath.
“No… no, I have to get these guys back on some kind of track or I don’t know where they might end up. Ian could be a couple of hours, and who knows how far they’ll go in that time. ” Parvi spun her chair around and rolled over to a silver travel case, pulling out several coiled sets of wires and electrodes.
“Um, who cares? Let’s just fuckin’ leave ‘em.” Simon jumped out of his chair, leaned in front of the young woman. “That’s the protocol.”
“Don’t mistake it for sentimentality,” Parvi said. “It wouldn’t be the first time I messed up and made salad. If they come out with a bunch of memory glitches, it would be relatively easy to sort out what we were doing, and how, if the right tests get done on them in the next week or so. And that would be really, really bad.” She rose from her chair, began clipping cable connectors together. “Rizwan!” she called. The big man had already hung up his cell phone, hearing Simon and Parvi’s disagreement.
“Fine,” Simon shook is head in frustration. “How does this work…?”
Parvi remembered Ian’s crack about meeting them, apologizing. Well, depending on how this went, she might get a chance.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
The motel blinds rattled inwards, the tinkling cry of shattered glass behind. It was as if they had been blown inside by pure light, a slow strobe of red and white that poured into the room and cut harsh sharp shadows behind them. Over the hum, like a billion bees
Mulder could hear Scully, sobbing, crawling behind him, felt her movement pulling at the sheets.
The blinds waved frantically, sucked outside the window towards the howling bright. The light was a thing, a place, and it had gone to pure morningstar-white with shadows moving slowly inside. He froze, as if his nervous system had submerged in the hiss and buzz.
No, no, no, no, nononono not her not again
“NO!” He heard Scully shout, heard the brittle snaps of her weapon, frequencies altered somehow like they were in a metal box. The mass of shadows in the light flailed, he saw what had to be a slender arm and a head, too narrow at the jaw, too large at the top.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
She wanted to move, but she couldn’t. She thought of her weapon, but no, she’d checked it with the Wichita police for the routine ballistics test. She was naked, tangled in bedsheets, hiding helpless behind Mulder. His muscles were straining, frozen, she could feel the vibration of a strangled growl in his bones.
The men came in through the window without ducking somehow. The suits were white, with the puffy booties and dark windows for faces. They had cases, silver, a little cart. There were things on the cart, things she recognized, things for her body.
The floor had gone from motel carpet to a sterile white shine, and the bed seemed to be shrinking under them. The walls had pushed out into a large, poorly defined space. And she was naked, so awful awful can’t move naked
She cried out, and Mulder moved then.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
The tall man rolled off the cot, electrodes trailing. He lunged forward in a crawl, a roar erupting from his throat. Parvati, kneeling at the head of the cot, had time only to fall back on her hands before he was on top of her, his knee smashing down on her chest and sliding off to one side so he straddled her. One huge, furious hand pushed down hard on her neck, choking and restraining, the other rising and falling, a blur of violence starting at Mulder’s waist as he threw his body into the terrible blows. The woman gasped desperately for air as his fist smashed at her face.
“How do you like it?” Mulder roared. “How do you like this? Where are they? Where are they?”
Simon threw himself at Mulder, lacking the body mass to knock him over completely but taking his attention away from the helpless woman beneath him. Mulder landed a glancing blow across Simon’s chin as the other tried to push him backwards. Mulder suddenly pushed himself back, knocking over the cot behind him. He looked over at Parvati, who was slowly rolling over, hands pressed against her face, whimpering and gasping hoarsely. Mulder’s eyes widened in horror. Rizwan thundered into the room, knocking over a crate as he blew through the swinging door. He neatly leapt over the kneeling Simon and landed on his knees, sliding forwards to clothesline Mulder with one big arm and drive him onto his back. He threw his torso over Mulder’s and forced his arms to the floor. Simon fumbled for the hypodermic needle in the kit Parvati had been carrying. He yanked off the plastic tip and drove the needle into Mulder’s thigh. Mulder looked woozily around the room for a few seconds and then stilled, breathing suddenly slowing.
“Parvi! Parvi!” Simon huddled over the young woman, brushing her hair back from her face.
“Oh… oh…” she sobbed. “Okay. Haaaa… ribs, think… broke ribs, chest….”
“Can you stand?”
Rizwan rose slowly, looking at the unconscious man. He was breathing hard, a vein standing out on his forehead.
“I say we fucking kill this fucker, piece of shit…”
“No! No one dies!” Simon shouted. “It’s over. Go call Ian, get us out of here, get help.” As he waved Rizwan out of the room, Parvi whimpered, gasping painfully. “Parvi! Stay with me, Parvi. You stay with me.”
Rizwan hissed a stream of obvious curses that Simon didn’t understand. He nudged Mulder with his toe, jerked his head towards Scully.
“What about these two?”
Parvati was trying to drag herself into a sitting position with Simon’s help, screwing her eyes shut.
“Leave them…” The first phrase ended in a near-sob. “It might work anyway… can’t do anything else now…”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Mulder, God, I’m so sorry, I just froze, I just…”
Scully heard her voice flutter roughly through the darkness like a broken wing. Or perhaps she heard it; she wasn’t certain that its damaged flight hadn’t just been in her head.
“No, you were shooting,” she heard him mumble. “I saw you. What…?”
Mulder was trying to raise his uncooperative head to look around. She could see him only in flashes, as if wherever they were was lit by a failing fluorescent light. She gathered him in, feeling his chin settle on her shoulder.
“Are you all right?”
“I don’t know, Scully.” Mulder sounded weak, dazed. “I don’t know.” His arms hung at his sides, useless. “What’s happening?”
She tried to look around, but there was no around. Stabs of gray light revealed nothing. Scully was conscious that she was on her knees, but she couldn’t tell what the surface was, and she didn’t want to let go of Mulder to touch the floor. Her knees might have been bare; she couldn’t tell. Dust. She thought of dust.
“I don’t know, Mulder. I don’t know.” she replied, feeling how deep the quaver in her voice started. Mulder stirred against her, trying and failing to raise his head from her shoulder. Scully felt him manage to get one hand moving, felt it brush woodenly against her back. She couldn’t tell whether it was skin or clothing he touched; more just the sense that Mulder had touched her.
“Where do we go now?” he asked.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Skinner found something reassuringly mundane, verging on sordid, about the waiting. Spender had two men joining them within the hour; he said he hadn’t expected things to move so quickly and had had to improvise, pulling them from somewhere else.
“I always had the impression you had unlimited resources.”
They sat in Skinner’s car, in another mall parking lot. Skinner realized how rarely he left the city, and wondered what the hell people in the suburbs were doing going to Home Depot at ten o’clock at night.
“You don’t have fifteen per cent fewer people and twenty per cent less budget than you believe you really need to do the job properly? I always thought that was as true of the janitorial staff as it is of the most elite tactical assault unit or research laboratory.” He flicked the end of his cigarette out the car window and chuckled. “If that’s not the case at the FBI, I’d be pleased to submit my resume to your superiors for their consideration.”
What would you need to fix at ten o’clock? Skinner thought. Skinner had long ago tried to define a limit of concern for Mulder and Scully, if he was reasonably certain they were in the same place. There was a limit to how far you could go; he’d tried, and then Mulder had managed to redefine that to include Antarctica, and all reasonable comparison had ceased.
“Janitorial staff might be hiring.”
Mulder and Scully were professionals, and beyond. At this point, he only had the evidence of a gas station security camera and the smoking man that Mulder and Scully weren’t just off on some errand of their own. He’d given up trying to keep track, if he’d ever been able to.
Yet, here he was in the parking lot.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“How’s she doing?” Simon asked, slamming the latches shut on an equipment case. Rizwan grunted angrily.
“She’s busted up, some ribs broken but I think her lungs are clear. Fucker pounded on her, may have a concussion. Needs a doctor now to make sure.” Angry and distracted, he had a thick accent.
“I’ve almost got this stuff shut down… I hope…” Simon watched the database server chattering away as it merrily erased itself. “The software shit is Parvi’s and Ian’s department.”
“So we’re just leaving them?” Rizwan indicated the open door into the other room. Mulder was still slumped against the wall in half-sitting position, Scully left on her cot. The equipment and electrodes had been removed; they looked like they were taking some kind of fugitive’s desperate rest in a sparsely appointed hideout, Mulder gallantly giving up the one narrow bed to her.
“I so can’t make that call,” Simon said, shutting the last machine down. “Ian and Parvi are the only ones with the operational contacts and Parvi’s busy fuckin’ being unconscious.” He yanked cables out of the computer’s back. “I’m not even supposed to be here, I was just doing Ian a favor. Just chill, Ian said he would be right here.”
“I should call my people,” Rizwan said. “We can clean this right up.”
“Yeah. I know. Wrong country, man.” Simon knew enough about operations to know that he didn’t want a bunch more ‘third party’ goons running around ‘cleaning things up.’ Never add extra complications. “Besides, Parvi’s your boss and she’d fucking own you. This is all going to work out. There’s Ian now.”
“Fucking time,” Rizwan cursed, disappearing down the hallway at a jog.
A few seconds later, Simon was confused— Ian had really brought the cavalry. There were four guys straight out of Counterstrike, full black tactical kit, goggles and MP5s. Two headed for the far door where Parvi was— wow, they are right on the ball— and the other two pointed their snubby weapons right at him. Whoa, okay, they’re on, he thought. He raised his hands, stood up, this is just how these guys work, he thought. A fifth man entered from the hallway— no Ian and no Rizwan yet, though. The new guy was lean, with short hair and a leather jacket and a pretty-boy face. Simon didn’t recognize him, but he looked like… like this was not turning out at all like it was supposed to.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Maine 27 September 1997
It was a woman’s dress, for a woman who would walk down the aisle with thirty-three years less two weeks of life and a double lifetime of experiences behind her. No one would hold her arm, her father dead, her brother unwilling to give her away to her chosen.
It was a rich, deep ivory, sleek and fine, touched with hints of lace and pearl. Cut closely to Dana’s small waist, baring her strong arms and shoulders, it was elegant yet still carried an undertone of sexual promise. She carried roses, in red and orange and yellow to suit the deepening autumn.
It had been a mad gamble to do it here on the coast at the end of September, but it was where he’d asked. They’d been more than lucky, almost improbably so. The tiny town church stood ready, just in case, but a fine morning drizzle had burned away and the afternoon sun was clearly approving of the proceedings.
Scully moved slowly down the aisle, her head held high, her red hair, longer than she had worn it since she was a girl, swept up gloriously. Mulder first saw a glimmer above her forehead, realized she was wearing a fine, almost ghostly tiara. Then he saw her eyes glimmering with tears. She was trying to keep from bursting into a full and undignified smile, or doing some equally undignified bawling. Scully approached the front row, passing between two empty chairs with a single yellow rose on each— Samantha and Melissa. As she glanced one way, then the other, at her mother on her left and his on her right, he saw that her tiara was composed of tiny, delicate translucent white stars in a lattice of gold. It seemed as fine as her hair, almost a part of her, a sign of enchantment. Scully’s eyes met his as she saw him noticing it, and she smiled. He started to smile in response, and then his eyes crinkled slightly and his mouth moved, one of the tiny signs she recognized in him— a realization.
My mother’s dead, Mulder thought.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Well, fuck me.” The sergeant stood half in and half out of the double doors, looking at the woman on one cot and the man collapsed on the floor.
“What?” Krycek entered the room, knelt beside Mulder and checked the pulse at his neck. He looked down, lifted up Mulder’s right hand by the wrist and noted bruised knuckles.
“That’s Parabola and Hyperbola, right? Haven’t heard of these two in a while. Never thought I’d actually see them.” The sergeant let his weapon drop slightly. “They’re right, she’s pretty.” He’d had a little rush coming the door, and it all went away when the Asian kid had held his hands up like it was a western. It was janitor, cleanup shit after that. “I thought maybe they went down with the rest of their gang at El Rico. Are we doing them?” he asked, with a slight hesitation.
Honestly, the sergeant fucking hoped not. He’d had to shoot one pretty girl already today, the last bit of cleanup, injured in the little room at the back. Stearns had gone into the room first, frozen up and kind of goggled at him, so he’d pushed the young grunt out the door and done it himself. He’d put two through her heart. Though he doubted anyone who cared would ever see her dark, fine-lined face again, he didn’t want to do that to them if they did.
Krycek snorted, shook his head and stood up. He’d forgotten the Pentagon codenames. They were backwards, of course, Scully getting the one representing the greatest extremity.
“Not today, soldier,” he said. “That is way above your pay grade. We’re just going to dump the lovebirds here somewhere comfortable.”
“Did you know they were here?” the sergeant probed.
Krycek rummaged through the plastic crate containing Mulder and Scully’s belongings. He took the badges and propped them up on the newly vacant cot as the sergeant lifted Scully’s unconscious body in a fireman’s carry.
“Nah. This is just a bonus. Get them out to the truck.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Scully, Scully, Scully.” He stepped forward, into the aisle. She looked at him curiously.
“Mulder, what’s…” she began. He came close to her, gathering her in with his arms. He heard her make a small noise of confusion, waited and felt her warmth under his hands for a few moments. Her left hand gently stroked the back of his neck. Mulder ducked to press his cheek against the side of her head.
“My mom’s dead, Scully,” he said, his voice just above a whisper. “I remember. She killed herself, in her apartment. I went to her funeral. You came with me.” He heard a rustle, and realized it was the sound of roses dropping to the ground.
“Where are we…?” She gently pulled back from him, looking at the unfamiliar collar of his dress shirt, at the fabric of his tuxedo jacket. Scully looked down at herself, at unimagined elegance, beauty embraced rather than harshly cultivated.
“It’s slipping, Scully. It’s starting to come back to me.”
A look of horror crossed her face.
“I remember cold… being so cold. You came for me,” she said with something like surprise. Then something else, eyes closed, return to horror. “Fire. Their faces… they have no faces…”
“Scully, oh no…” He knew somehow that it was coming to both of them. She had never awoken that night, though she suspected that it had happened. She felt the hospital floor under Mulder’s knees, saw a small shape in the dark, felt Mulder’s elbows on what was to be her deathbed, felt her own frailty under his light touch and the peculiar sense of her own presence. She felt tears well up in Mulder’s eyes and the awful, inchoate nothingness that faces the man who realizes in a moment that he is not an atheist, but cannot say what it is that he believes in. She realized what it was like to want to pray and not know how. Why…?
(For all the times I have said that to you I am as certain of this as you have ever been. I have cancer. It is a mass on the wall between my sinus and cerebrum. If it pushes into my brain, statistically, there is about zero chance of survival.)
One drop, two drops, four crimson spatters across the lace of Scully’s dress, one on the pale soft skin above. She reaches up to her face, fingers pressing against her upper lip and coming away stained.
“No, no, nononono” he whispered. The telltale droplets vanished; the color sucked out of them before they disappeared altogether. The light took on a strange, grayish-yellow cast and lost its direction, as if smoke was filling the sky and diffusing the sun.
“I think it’s coming apart, Mulder.” They were alone on the grass, empty chairs randomly patterned around them, the arbor behind Mulder hanging devoid of flowers for a despairing second before disappearing. “It’s not real.”
Mulder leaned towards her, one hand slipping around her back, the other to her cheek, running back through her hair. She met him, eyes open by mutual unspoken agreement. Their lips came together softly at first, then harder, their eyes closing in shared reflex. Mulder felt the soft exhalation of surprise and pleasure from Scully as the kiss deepened, her breath between them.
I know. I remember, and I don’t, but it was never like this.
This is what it’s really like.
Mulder. I hear you.
They broke apart, arms still encircling, just wide enough to see each other’s faces. He smiled sadly, his hand tracing the line of the tiara across her brow.
She smiled at him, feeling tears form as fuzzy half-formed impressions floated up. Yes, stars. Dana that’s so beautiful, I don’t care if he sees the dress, Mom, but he can’t know about this… The vague image wavered as noise rose around them, a thunderous rush as if they were trapped in the beating of wings. The green grass of the beautiful day turned first gray, then white, then fell away beneath them. There was nothing else to be done, so they pulled close to one another.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Do you think they did this?” the smoker mused as he lit a cigarette. The bodies had been pulled into the centre of the room, no care taken to cover the blood. One, a big dark-skinned man, had been pulled in from the hall. The others were a young Asian man and a pretty Indian girl who looked as if she’d been beaten before being shot. Her long hair had mopped up blood from the floor, and rolled up in a gory rope.
“And just left? And left their badges? They’re federal agents,” Skinner said. He looked around the room. Not enough blood, he thought, and the room had been cleaned out to some extent. There were cables, cases, but no equipment… and again, not enough blood. There was blood from three bodies. Mulder and Scully, presumably alive, had been part of the prize here.
“If they were abducted…” the smoker said, studying the empty eyes of the large man dead on the floor, “if Agent Scully were abducted… do you really know exactly what they’d do?”
“Not this.” The young man had been shot in the chest twice, then a control shot to the head when he was down. Skinner couldn’t see that as either of their style.
Not as long as they were both still alive, anyway.
They’d arrived a few minutes after Spender received a frantic call; Skinner assumed it was probably the young man who was now outside, late twenties with a shaved head and seeming way out of his depth. They’d abandoned their wait for Spender’s men, Spender terse and nervous as Skinner drove recklessly.
Spender had been cagey about why the young man was there; he’d mentioned surveillance but the guy didn’t strike Skinner as someone you’d send on surveillance alone.
Ian had been sitting against a wall when they arrived, left the room and went outside the moment they entered. Skinner could tell in the two seconds he saw the young man that this was his first time— he remembered that from war. Intelligence guys, reporters, young officers who knew about these things in an abstract sense, had maybe taken fire but had never really seen aftermath before.
“Your guy… you knew these people.” Skinner jerked his head at the bodies on the floor.
“They’re not familiar to me but apparently they are to him,” Spender said. “That’s why they call it an intelligence community, Walter, or they used to. You can’t have a conspiracy of one.”
“He going to be all right?”
“We never really get a choice about that, do we?”
Skinner’s phone beeped, begging attention.
“Hi, Walter. I told you I could help.” Skinner looked at the dead. That seemed like Krycek’s idea of help. “Don’t tell the smoking man.”
“What’s going on?” Skinner asked, turning away from Spender.
“I picked up some friends, gave them a ride somewhere safe.” The lack of emotion in Krycek’s voice never ceased to amaze him. There was this vague earnestness; nothing else. “I imagine you’ll hear from them pretty soon. You saw I left their badges behind for verification.”
“I need more than that.”
“You got everything you want. I got what I want.” Krycek’s voice didn’t change; it was a statement of fact. “I’ll present it as a success; it’ll move our cooperation forward.”
Krycek hung up. Skinner avoided pausing, avoided studying his phone.
“I have to go,” he said. “We may have a lead.” Skinner glanced at the bodies. “Do you… do you need a hand?”
“No, no, thank you,” the smoker said with a strange, distracted politeness. “I’ve done this before, and it’s time he learned.” Skinner turned to leave, mentally going over whether he’d touched anything in the room. “Mr. Skinner… keep me posted.”
“You won’t find out on your own?”
The smoker paused before replying.
“It’s always good to find out from someone you trust.”
Ian brushed past Skinner in the short hallway, eyes downcast, running his hands over his head. Skinner thought about saying something, out of general principle, and realized that he actually just couldn’t bring himself to give that much of a fuck.
“Who was that guy?” Ian asked. Spender recognised the voice. No intonation, emotionless. This is what is meant by ‘in shock.’ “Why aren’t we telling him this was our op?”
“Someone who doesn’t need to know the whole truth. As of an hour ago, this is not our op. You have no idea whose op this was. Now, what happened?” Spender asked coldly. Ian had had his moment; he was entitled to it, the first time. Now it was time for the work.
“I don’t know,” Ian said shakily. “When I left to check on the exfil for Bob and Alice, everything was fucking copacetic, everything was working. Then Simon called and said we’d had a problem, but I was out in Annapolis and by the time I got back… it was too late, I found this. It wasn’t Bob and Alice. Rizwan’s guys took their guns. I don’t know what happened.”
“So it’s a failure,” Spender said evenly.
“Yeah, it’s a fucking failure,” Ian looked disgusted. “What the fuck does it look like?”
“Did they get the technology?”
“I don’t know.” Ian kicked at a dismembered cable. “They took the terminals; they didn’t get the transceivers, which is a big part of it but depending who it is they might have that already…”
“You couldn’t recreate this operation?”
“On those two? No, no, hell, no, not… not without Parvi, even if I could source all the equipment somewhere.” Not without Parvi, Ian thought. His inner geek had initially stuck its head up out of the hole at the sound of a challenge. Then it smelled blood— smelled blood, he realized, that shit is real, you can smell blood— and ran away. “Look, are we going to… what are we going to do with them?”
“We’re going to put them in the van,” the smoker said, removing a pair of leather gloves from a coat pocket, “and you’re going to drive it to the office in Richmond where the bodies will be disposed of in a secure fashion. I don’t suggest speeding. I’ll take this young man’s car and dispose of it.” He looked directly at Ian. Ian looked back, dumbly, his head trying to scan around the bloody floor. “Do you understand?”
“Yeah, ye-… yeah.”
“No, I don’t think you do.” Spender said, pulling on one glove. “This is part of the game, son, this is not that chess club they have for you in La Jolla. You do an operation, there is a risk you will fail.” He flexed his hands inside the leather. “Everything, anything you work for, anything you desire… there is a risk you will lose.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Two days later
Mulder didn’t like the idea of the bar. It had a ridiculous faux-pub name, the Arrow and Barrel or Drinky McAlcohol’s or something. After ignoring him for thirty-six hours, Scully had called and suggested it with a forced, vague cheerfulness, like ‘we should talk’ was some sort of special event. He knew that what it really meant was neutral ground, someplace where she knew the boundaries of things.
He’d spent the previous two nights on the couch, old school, where he knew the boundaries of things, where he’d fucked his partner a few times a few years back but that was complicated and we don’t really talk about it, we’re adults and it was just something that happened. Or maybe that was her side of the story, the one that left out remembered hair-scent and the sound of breath, a discussion about whether an artificial intelligence represented by timed patterns of photons could be transmitted through a black hole, and good-natured arguing over who got to mow the lawn, because they both liked the mindless white-noise focus of it.
“So what are we going to tell them?” By ‘them’ he meant the small team investigating their brief disappearance. Skinner had handed it over to another unit who had seemed to be taking it the way DC police would take a report of a stolen bike— come down and make a statement and we’ll let you know if we come up with anything.
“I don’t think I remember anything that’s relevant to the case,” Scully replied. He fought the urge to respond to Scully’s attempt to define the term ‘relevant.’
“What do you think happened?” he asked.
Scully studied her drink, pushing a lime wedge down with a straw. She’d woken up in his arms. Bad dream, she’d thought, strange dream, not the first one like it. She’d press up against him, half-wake him, nuzzle for a minute until her heart slowed.
Then she’d felt shoes on her feet, bra straps pulling, no skin on skin. It was a motel bed, and they were lying on top of it. It was not a place, not a way, they were supposed to be.
“I don’t know. I don’t think we know any more than anyone else. We were abducted. We were drugged with a fairly common sedative, for unknown reasons. We showed no signs of having been physically molested.”
He was awake, had been watching her sleep. As she’d slowly pulled away from him into their now he looked so very sad, almost apologetic.
“Scully, you were there, I was there.”
Have you called Skinner yet, she asked. No, he said, I didn’t want to… I needed to get my head together first. Are you okay? She didn’t answer him. Do you remember, he asked. Yes, and found herself squeezing his hand. She pulled away as quickly as she could without hurting him any more.
Head hung over the table, fingers knitted together in front of her, Scully let herself nod very slowly. Yes, Mulder, I was there. I had a living room and a wedding dress and vacation time and once we’d tried to have a barbecue like normal people. I smacked you on the ass with a metal spatula. Joe ended up cooking because we were both hopeless and he’s really good and loves to do it, and I sat in your lap and drank bourbon and ginger ale. I know how to make a hamburger, Mulder, but you don’t know that, and I don’t know how bourbon and ginger ale tastes, so that must have been your story.
Is that what you want me to say? Do you want to swap stories about things that never happened?
But she remained silent, and Mulder continued.
“I think somebody wanted us to do something, needed us to be…”
“You think it was hypnosis, suggestion.” Scully paused. “The adoption?” she asked quietly.
“Maybe,” he said.
“Do you think that’s… relevant to the case?” she asked, not really inviting an answer. Mulder realized that the warning sign Scully was throwing up with this statement would be visible from Baltimore. He let it go, as she had carefully instructed him to, simply nodding noncommittally. She continued. “It’s all fading so fast. I don’t know what might be relevant.”
“Maybe none of it was. Maybe it was just…” He trailed off, resisting the urge to push his point. She was still trying to control ‘relevant’, he thought, define out everything else.
“Telepathy, Mulder?” It wasn’t a snap, but it was quick. “Shared out-of-body experience?”
“Scully, we’ve got a connection. We’ve got something very few people have.”
This response, though, took time. She constructed it in her head; an opening, a middle, and an end. It had clauses, subclauses, and included a lot of wording which she hoped was carefully, noncommittally sincere. She would not deny or disavow anything that had happened in the past, nor say anything that could be taken as an immediate invitation to radically reconfigure the status quo, while not ruling out the eventuality of that happening. It was a good response, and she was proud of it.
“I know,” was what came out of her mouth.
“Scully, do you… do you remember, in the hotel room, there was someone, in a suit, a containment suit, and I…”
“Yeah,” she said quietly. And I was frozen, I was screaming, I was crying like a little girl and I just wanted you to save me.
“I think that might have been someone real, really there. I, uh, I think I remember a woman, looking down and seeing a woman, dark skin, dark hair and, uh, I think I hurt her, Scully.” Mulder flexed his right hand. The knuckles were raw, red, swollen on the two smaller fingers. She automatically reached out, gently touching. He winced but didn’t pull back.
“Not broken, but it wouldn’t hurt to tape those for a few days.” She withdrew her hand; there was no linger. “Mulder, from what I remember, when they took us, you went down fighting. It’s not surprising.”
“I don’t know, it was different.” He seemed to almost be talking to himself. “It… there was a room, a different room.”
“Mulder, I… I want to ask you something.” Dana felt a little stab as she said it. We don’t need to know this, a hard voice in the back of her head whispered. “What gave it away?”
“Just… feeling, I don’t know.” Oh, Mulder, she thought. He was even giving her a chance to change her mind about asking the question, and for some reason she didn’t.
“I tried to think about what I was supposed to have accomplished, and how I could have done it without you there, right beside me like you’ve always been. I tried to remember you leaving the X-Files, what you, we decided, and I just couldn’t.” He paused. Dan… Scully’s face was carefully controlled, but he could see in her eyes the impact he was having. She might be regretting asking about irrelevancies, but couldn’t stop. “How about you?”
“I remember being in our, in the bedroom and…” her voice dropped to a secret tone, “You asked about our, uh, our first time, and when you told your story, I realized that I had both memories, and… yours was the right one. That was how it actually happened.”
“That was… how I knew it was really you, it wasn’t, I wasn’t alone.” Mulder said. “I hadn’t been sure, but there were things… things about our life, that I knew weren’t mine, that didn’t come from me. I didn’t know if it was real, but I knew that it was you, it was from you. I knew you’d picked out most of the furniture.” He laughed quietly at the memory. “I knew… whatever was happening, you were there with me.”
“What aren’t you telling me?” And why am I asking? she thought.
“I remembered how things happened, back then. Modell, and that while after, when we…” Mulder couldn’t finish it; she wouldn’t have known what to say either. ‘Broke up’? Sounds trivial, highschool, like we’d been ‘dating,’ or maybe it overstated things. Maybe ‘stopped’ would be better. “And I, uh, I couldn’t sort out how we’d gotten from back then, to… to where we were. Together, married… whatever. I couldn’t figure it out, but I, uh, didn’t want to.” He trailed off.
Scully’s face burned furiously.
“I liked it your way.” Mulder said it almost shyly. “Maine sounded really nice.” He avoided her eyes for a long pause, and took a deep breath. “I mean, if I honestly believed that all I had to do to keep you from Donnie Pfaster, or Antarctica, or… or anything was…” She saw him trying to make a joke out of it, a sweet one, one she couldn’t possibly riposte without cutting him deeply.
“They manipulated us, Mulder.” She had to head him off before he finished. “They played with our minds. It was all a setup, like you said, some kind of false memory implanted…”
“Then why didn’t they set us up with the same false memory?” Mulder cut her off. She looked like she’d felt it, her mouth closing tightly. He resolved to dwell guiltily on this moment. “Scully, I… yes. There was a setup. They had a plan. I don’t know what it was. But the cancerman could not make that up. There were things in there that no one would know, no matter how many bugs they’ve planted over the years.”
She avoided his eyes, mouth set in a straight line. It pissed him off. Right, Scully, straight to the sex. That’s your greatest failure, the one you’re most ashamed to admit, opening your legs.
“That’s not what I mean.” It pissed him off, and it hurt. “I mean… can you tell me that you haven’t wondered what it would have been like if things had been different? Because now you know I have.” He heard a sharp intake of breath, shoes scraping on the floor. He reached quickly across the table, grasping her hand to stop her attempt to rise. She slowed, settled. He understood, releasing his grip but still leaving his hand on top of hers.
“Mulder, I can’t.” She held up her free hand as if to quiet him, a gesture he’d never seen before. “Don’t… just, please…” She began to rise, and he didn’t try to stop her.
“Okay. I just, I need to say this. I think… the cancerman tried this on me before. In the end, no matter what they gave me, something was missing.”
“No.” She got up from the table. “I’m sorry, Mulder, I can’t do this right now.”
If anyone had noticed her leave they would have had to make up their own story, something to explain the welling up in the small woman’s eyes and her determined autopilot stride. The story would probably have to involve the man she’d left at the table, with his face in his hands.
He remembered stars.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Parking garages again. Skinner thought that he was going to get Kim to start scheduling meetings in his car.
“That was good work, Walter,” Krycek said from the back seat.
“Fuck you.” Saying ‘fuck you’ to Krycek was satisfying in its own way, but a weak substitute for pounding the living shit out of him— weaponless, getting well-earned scraped knuckles, maybe even dislocating a finger. It would be worth it. He imagined waiting here for Krycek, smashing his face against the edge of the car’s roof.
“You’re starting to understand how this whole thing works,” Krycek said. “Everybody looks out for their own interests and we all know where we stand.”
“Why did you kill those people?”
“Too complicated not to. Disappearing people is expensive. Corpses in DC are very cheap.” Krycek gave a small shrug. “Besides, had to send a message. There’s a new sheriff in town. People have been freelancing, and that’s not allowed anymore.”
“Who’s the sheriff?”
“The military always felt like it wasn’t getting its share of the Consortium’s successes. Technologies. Toys. They never gave a shit about the project. They just wanted the toys.” Krycek chuckled. “Now that the Consortium’s gone… mostly gone… the Pentagon’s hoping to pick up the shinier pieces.”
“And you’re helping them.”
“I’m looking out for my interests,” Krycek said. “Same reason I’m here talking to you.”
“So who took Mulder and Scully in the first place?” Skinner asked.
“Who knows? Maybe Strughold’s people. Maybe the French, or one of the Russians. Some local player. Spender’s probably not the only holdout. Most people think Mulder works, or worked, for Spender anyway. Probably related to that somehow.” Krycek opened the rear door, and gave a polite nod in the rear-view mirror. “I’ll be in touch.”
Skinner wanted to say ‘fuck you’ again, but settled for imagining slamming the door on Krycek’s hand, twice.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
The gun was an automatic gesture, a product of near-instinctive reasoning. It was after midnight; the knock wasn’t Mulder’s, though she was half expecting it to be. Possibly even half wanting it to be. She thought she probably should have turned on some lights, in case it had been Mulder. Nothing says ‘yes, Mulder, this is a good time for a mature, straightforward discussion regarding increased acknowledgment of our emotional intimacy’ like sitting alone in your apartment in the middle of the night with a half-empty bottle of red wine and all the lights off.
But it was after midnight, and it wasn’t Mulder, and there was no one else.
So, the gun.
She darted towards the door to peek through the spyhole and then step back; quickly, in case someone smashed in the door and flattened her. There was one man, youngish, with wire-rimmed glasses and a shaved head. Glancing nervously down the hallway, he didn’t look like the door-smashing type.
“Look,” he said in an urgent murmur loud enough to carry through the door, “I know you’re going to be holding a gun on me, just let me in.”
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Ian,” he replied. “Look, I know you, but it’s going to take some explaining. Um, this is going to sound weird, but do you know the name Spender? Guy smokes a lot?”
“Take two steps back from the door,” Scully instructed. “When I tell you, come in, close the door, put your hands behind your head.” She stepped back into the entryway, slightly to the right and in a position that would allow her to dart behind the couch if he made a run at her. “Okay.”
Ian entered slowly. He still didn’t look overly threatening, shoulders slumped, in an untucked short-sleeved shirt, t-shirt and jeans. He looked like someone who might know the Gunmen, though a bit younger. He did as she had asked, closing the door and placing his hands behind his head as he turned to face her. His eyes focused on the gun, in the way of a hostage. Scully realized that the upper hand was clearly hers for the time.
“Talk,” she said coldly.
“I worked for Spender until… well, until now, I guess. Technically I work for NSA. That’s where I met Parvi, and that’s why I’m here. Um, I don’t know how much you remember, but, uh, several days ago you… you’re probably missing a day or so.”
Scully was silent.
“And you don’t remember what happened.”
Neither her gun nor her face showed a trace of motion.
“Or you have memories that don’t make sense.”
Ian saw her expression change slightly in the dark. He’d only seen her unconscious before. Awake she looked older, harder, seemed taller.
The gun changed things, too.
“I’ve been involved with the group that created those memories. I’m, uh, I’m an engineer. My friend Parvi was a neurologist. She was responsible for creating the scenarios.” His hands dropped a little and she motioned them back up with her weapon. Ian complied quickly. “Um, on Thursday night, uh, look, the whole procedure was a failure. I was away from the site, and Simon, one of the other engineers, called me to come for a cleanup. I got there with the van, and they were all dead. They’d been shot. I called Spender and he showed up with this other guy Walter and we, uh, we cleaned up. I was supposed to take Par… the bodies to one of our offices, but… I couldn’t. I took off, took care of it myself.”
“Why didn’t you go to the authorities?”
Ian shook his head.
“Did you miss the part about ‘NSA’? We’re supposed to be the authorities.”
“That’s a good one.”
“Look, believe it or not, as far as I knew, everything we did up until things went to hell that night is completely legal. Way past top secret, but legal. The executive authorizations for that program go back to Johnson.” His hands had dropped, and she wasn’t threatening them back up again.
“That was a hell of a, what did you call it, a scenario? The job. The house. Whole new life.”
Ian’s eyes flickered downwards in the dark. He looked thoughtful.
“No… no way, that’s not Parvi’s style. That’s something we, I mean Americans would try. Just change your whole life, drop everything. It never works, not for more than a week or two. Parvi, uh, she always said it’s the small things that make the difference, that you can’t make someone do something they can’t imagine. She said you just try to shift the context a little, so that whatever we want lines up with something you want. Imagination takes care of the rest.”
“How did you shift our context?” Ian noted that her voice had changed, but even if it had been in his nature to try to read what it meant, he was a little distracted by the gun. Guns made holes, holes and blood.
“We talked about it a little, but she got most of it from Spender. We knew that you, uh, that you and Bob… sorry, I don’t know his name, your, Jesus, I don’t even know if you guys are married.” A nervous laugh escaped, “I don’t know your name, I just had the address from your file.” Ian looked at the floor. “Spender told us that you guys can’t have children. She… worked from there, with the adoption agency in Amsterdam. It would probably have been worked into a vacation. She always liked using vacations, everybody loves vacations.”
The way the woman’s big blue eyes narrowed terrified him.
“And what were we supposed to do?” Her voice was cold, a little shaky.
“As far as I know, just go to Amsterdam. Parvi might have known more.” Ian heard his own voice stumble, trying to make nice.
“So what went wrong? Why are we not in Amsterdam?”
“Spender gave Parvi bad information, probably. Underestimated your intelligence, got something important wrong. We just don’t plan for people like you two. It’s not supposed to happen in the wild.” Scully heard a familiar tone, the scientist. Still a sense of wonder with a very angry lab rat pointing a nine millimeter at your chest. “I’ve heard of it with siblings. Parvi said she saw it once with a married couple but they knew they were undergoing the procedure and were actively trying to influence each other.”
“Influence each other how?”
“We don’t know. Telepathy,” Ian said. “It’s like gravity. You can only prove it exists through observation. Whatever happened, you guys went into your own world there.”
She was silent for almost ten seconds. Ian wondered if her gun arm would get tired.
“Where were you planning to go?” she finally said. Ian shrugged.
“Dump my car somewhere, probably grab a bus south. Buses are impossible to track. Play fratboy and walk across the border into Mexico. Vaya con Dios. And with that…” Ian nodded at her and started to turn around.
“You’re not going anywhere. I’m calling my partner. If you’ve been working with Spender, you’ve got useful information. And we, for the record, are the authorities.”
“Sorry, forget it. I’m outta here.” He continued, his hand on the doorknob.
“Don’t move.” Ian’s shoulders sagged. Scully adjusted her aim to correct; just below the collarbone. She took one rapid step back as he suddenly turned around.
“You know, shoot me.” He stepped forward again, and Scully continued to backpedal. “I was a pretty happy drone until two nights ago. I was blue team, good guys, I took the blue fucking pill. Biggest problem I had was trying to figure out how to keep Parvi from marrying some doctor friend of her brother’s back in India. Now she’s dead, everything is just fucked, and I just don’t fucking care, so if you want to shoot me,” Ian slapped himself on the chest, “just do it. Shoot me.”
Her elbow bent, raising her gun to point at the ceiling.
“You know what?” he said, tugging at the fabric of his shirt. Scully could see his eyes tearing up. “I tried to burn her, because I know that’s what her family would do, I thought it would work.” His voice cracked. “I used fucking gasoline, you’d think that I’d know that wouldn’t work. I had to bury her, I had to bury what was left.”
The safety clicked as she bit her lip and sighed.
“I’m going.” Ian swallowed hard and turned around, heading for the door again. “Tell your partner I’m sorry, ‘cause… I think I am.”
“Wait… wait.” Scully said quickly. “Who else? There was the cancerman, Spender. You said there was another man.”
“Cancerman.” Ian grunted. “Awesome. We just call him Smokey. Parvi had some Hindi word that meant ‘chimney.’ At the end when… when I got there with the van. This other guy was the one who went in to get you and Bob.”
“This other guy. What did he look like?”
“Big white guy. Fifty, maybe. Bald, glasses, military-looking kinda dude. Smokey called him Walter.”
Ian watched her stare at the floor, her gun dangling at her side.
“Why did you come here?” Scully eventually asked.
“I dunno,” Ian said. “Retroactive conscience. Something I said once, figured I’d carry through. I’m, uh, not feeling like I got a lot to lose right now.”
“Go.” Scully waved her gun in a bizarre, careless gesture, rubbing at her forehead with her other hand. “Get out of here.” Ian didn’t need the prompting. He opened the door, stepped halfway out.
“Wait.” He didn’t turn back to face her as he spoke. “I got a favor to ask you.”
“Really,” Scully snorted.
“If you ever see me again,” Ian said. “I’m probably not really myself. So, uh, shoot me, okay?”
“Just get out.”
Scully looked at the door. She looked at the ceiling, at the chips of Donnie Pfaster’s skull she knew were in the plaster. She saw movement through the blinds, probably Ian leaving. Duane Barry came through there. It took her almost a year to find every last shard of glass. She smelled gasoline. Ian had smelled of gasoline and greasy fire, bone and carbonized flesh that stubbornly resisted the flame. Her throat constricted suddenly, choking up sick like she’d bit into a rotten fruit.
Scully dropped her gun on the couch and rubbed at her temples. Breath one. Her body lowered, bending at the waist, the knees. Breath four. Her elbows rested on her knees, crouching, perched on her toes, forehead resting in the palms of her hands. Breath seven. Her face raised, looking absently into the corner of her dark room. Her eyes closed. Breath nine. She stood quickly. Ten.
“Mulder, it’s me. I had a… visitor. I’ll tell you about it…” She took a few pointless steps, paused. “We need to talk.” Paused again. “I’ll, uh, come over.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
It’s a weird reflex from somewhere in the past, an artifact of a personality given to dutifulness. I’m not asleep, as she blinks slowly, looking surprised that her feet are curled up under her, not propped on the coffee table where she’d left them. He’s been listening to soft occasional snores and mumbles for the past half hour with the television muted; he knows the end of the movie anyway, and was just enjoying the time.
“Of course not,” he whispers.
“Flight’s not till evening, eight-thirty or something.” His nose and lips press gently against the top of her head, kissing her softly.
She hums with satisfaction as he rises beside her, swoops down to scoop her up in his arms and begins to carry her. Her arms slip around his neck, and he maneuvers her to catch the lightswitch with one little bare toe. She giggles sleepily at their shared dexterity. The lights fall in the red room.
The stairwell and the upstairs hallway are a rich aged ivory color, the most normal one they have. He neatly swings her around the little corner at the top, and she takes one hand from around his neck to catch the second lightswitch as he bears her down the hall. The hall falls dark, and the golden light from the bedroom door beckons them.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Next on Khyber Versus Season Seven: “all things”, as originally broadcast.
—— 7 ——
a m n e s i a
TITLE: Amnesia AUTHOR: Khyber EMAIL: CLASSIFICATION: VR RATING: R SPOILERS: “all things”, “Brand X” KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully romance SUMMARY: Khyber vs. Season Seven. Post-ep for “Brand X” and to a lesser extent “all things.”
Disclaimer: You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant, excepting Alice.
Author’s Notes: Part of “Khyber vs. Season Seven.” Takes place about two weeks after the nicotine treatment saves Mulder’s life. For the purposes of this story we’re going to pretend the dumbass final “two weeks later” scene of “Brand X” didn’t happen.
Again, “Khyber vs. Season Seven” is best read in order, and you’re sort of in the late beginning/early middle here.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Amnesia by Khyber
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
It’s Cosby for sure, raspy but obvious, a routine he definitely did not do.
“And I-iiiii… had never haaad, a blowjob. Like that. Before.”
Scully stifles a goofy laugh in the pillow, conscious of her mouth and the now-ruined position of Bill Cosby records in her family canon. She kicks him in the knee with a tiny bare foot. Cosby records, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Christmas Eve. Everyone could agree on that, at least until Missy was sixteen and briefly awful. Mulder’s big hand clamps on her ankle and she twists with wiry naked strength, laughing.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
His voice is a sheepish, breathy hiss as she leans in the doorway of the office, car keys dangling.
“So busted,” she replies. It’s almost eight PM, and he’s not even supposed to be here at all.
“How’d you catch me?”
She nods at the ceiling.
“Pattern of pencils changed this morning.” She crosses her arms under her breasts, and he tries not to pay attention to the way things move and shape beneath soft cotton. “Whatcha doin’ here, Mulder?”
He loves it when she contracts. It’s tensionless, means that no one is actually in trouble.
“It’s only been the past two nights,” putting one hand over his heart, “I swear.”
“I know.” Scully’s trying not to smile. “That line last night about why you were on your cell from your apartment was pretty weak.” He grins and shrugs. She sits down on the edge of the desk. “And, you moved around about eight things on the desk, too. You’d think you’d be better at sneaking around where you’re not supposed to be by now.”
A look of fondness, like but not exactly like she’d give her nephew.
“You didn’t drive down here, did you?”
“No, I got a cab.”
“Okay. You have two minutes to get whatever you want, then I’m taking you home.”
He sighs heavily, stretching in his chair and leaning back. She watches his chest. He’s broadening as he approaches forty, not softening but thickening. His knees bother him on the long runs so he goes to the gym more, has some weights in his apartment. She remembers the size of his biceps, what felt like it should have been familiar now surprising.
“Come on, Scully, I’m bored out of my mind. I’d be bouncing off the walls if I had enough energy. The drugs aren’t even fun anymore.” He gestures around the office. “I’m basically here for a change of scenery.”
She’s looking around the office for something, stands as she speaks.
“Did you at least bring the meds?”
The pile for recycling by the door is ruthlessly neat, as it is on days when she has the office to herself.
“Yes. I even brought fucking Boost.” It comes out harsher than he meant. He smiles at her back, trying to put the smile in his broken voice. “You were right. I’m coming around to the strawberry after all.”
She tosses a retrieved section of newspaper on his desk.
“Okay, then you have two minutes to pick a movie. My treat. But we’re not staying here.”
While he rattles the listings contentedly, she sits down. The rolling chair edges towards her laptop.
“Someone’s thinking about logging into her email…” he grins as he flips the folded paper towards her. She glances up sideways at him, her untended mid-evening hair falling into her face, and pushes herself back from the desk.
“I’m not,” she chuckles, “I’m not.” She rises, looking compact and content. “Okay, what am I watching blow up this time?”
“Nothing. I’m not going to take advantage if you’re paying. John Cusack?” On the way over to the coat rack he puts his arm around her shoulder. The pressure is gentle, steady. “I have a certain affinity with aging losers with record collections.”
“That’s dangerously close to a girl movie, Mulder.” She’d caught herself preparing to say ‘date movie’.
“I’m hoping you’ll get distracted so I can eat popcorn.”
“You can try eating popcorn, but you have no idea how much that’s gonna hurt going down.” She hasn’t shrugged his arm off— there’s no one in the hallway at this hour.
“Actually, I do, I tried toast this morning.” He winces.
“It was almost worth it. I said the strawberry was best, I didn’t say it was good.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Scully wins the wrestling match. Her hands pin his on his chest, still laughing.
Seventeen, twenty times, somewhere between, she thought. An average of five a year, which of course wasn’t how it worked at all. Counting this, and the slow, silent midnight they shared three weeks ago when her head had been abuzz with a weary sense of displacement and freedom. That night he’d lifted her from his couch, and then that dizzy buzz had lifted them both into his bed. Two hours’ sleep, perhaps, then a wordless snuggly tangle of lovemaking with bodies spooned together. She’d noticed the size, the strength of his arms as they wrapped around her, and was quite certain that that slow and cradled way was entirely new for them.
She doesn’t ever remember them laughing before, either, not like they are now. It makes him cough a couple of times, and he starts talking again to clear the concern from her eyes.
When they’re silent Mulder can feel her tense up— four years later, almost five, this is still what passes for afterglow from Scully. He wants to be able kiss it out of her, blast the thoughts out of that fine and ferocious mind. No, not that, they’ve fucked each other’s brains out before and the thoughts always come back. He wants to give her amnesia (transient global amnesia, Mulder, it’s not uncommon but not easily explained) just let her be, watch her watch the world go by as if everything was happening for the first time.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Scully checked herself one step at a time, first deciding that she would get out of the car, then that she would go up to his door. And then it would be silly not to go in, since she had come all the way up here already. In fact, it would be Spooky, one of those weird things they would do to maintain distance. So she went in, conscious of the roughness of Mulder’s breathing. The wedge of light from the door narrowed and disappeared.
He’s close and dear and alive (we’re alive) and hasn’t turned the lights on yet. She decides to move, tugging gently at his arm to turn him towards her.
Even in the dark she’s familiar enough with his face to avoid the nose, tilting her own head slightly. He senses the shift in her posture, her electromagnetic field, and ducks just enough that she doesn’t have to strain upwards.
They stay there for long enough to make the deal: one little inviting starter kiss to be certain that the other isn’t planning to just say goodnight, followed by raising the stakes a little. He opens his mouth first, and she surprises him with a little flick of her tongue. She feels him starting to smile under her lips. When the kisses break he’s just slid the tips of his fingers under her shirt, along the soft skin of her waist. They stay close together and her hand lands on his wrist, keeping his hand on her body. Yes.
“I was afraid I was going to lose you.” It’s practically a mumble, as though she fears mispronouncing the words.
“I knew you weren’t going to let go.”
She’s afraid of starting to cry and so starts it again, urging him down so she can kiss him lightly on the cheek, then brush her lips across his face, stopping gently on the mouth. He tries to deepen it, his eyes closing and his short breath rasping. Gentle, firm fingers press on his lips, the small sweet mouth moving to his jawline.
“You just keep breathing.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
She demanded quiet for this strange and beautiful performance, he thought. Scully on top of him was not just aesthetically superb and physically convenient, but reflected something oddly ritual in his catholic girl. He imagined that when she was young, either twenty-nine or fifteen, conscious or unconscious, the image formed for her that this was Dana Katherine Scully in love. She would move slowly and deliberately atop this man, whoever he was or would be. This is what she would do when that time came. He watched her proceed gracefully through the stations of her pilgrimage, hands, mouth, mount with a soft gasp. She is heedless of her own condition and does not wish him to concern himself with her, having faith that the virtuous pilgrim will be rewarded for her good works. Divine favour descends upon her as she knew it would. He feels her slim small back tighten and arch, feels the shivery sensation inside her, hears the wounded cry. This is three times he has been the object of this quiet ceremony, three times the offering has been made and he messed up the first two so bad, so long ago he barely remembered what the real thing was like maybe third time’s the charm…
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“There wasn’t a single black kid on the Vineyard, obviously. But at school, there were Richard Pryor records floating around.”
They’re done wrestling, laying on their bellies. She can tell Mulder wants to hold her, put an arm around her. He’d held her earlier but at this point, a good twenty minutes after, it would be getting into cuddling, snuggling, one of those soft words.
“God, he was funny. It was like a different world. I was into Lenny Bruce, too, but that was, you know, that was obvious.” She makes an appropriate noise as Mulder rolls over onto his back. “I had literally no idea what Richard Pryor was talking about but I knew it was hilarious.”
He’s trying to bring her down to somewhere sweetly mundane and it’s working, to a point. As he rolled over he’d paused for a second, seemingly only to look at her.
“I liked Dr. Seuss. When we stopped watching it, the Grinch, at Christmas I still liked it. I was fourteen.”
There’s a moment of silence in which each of them wonders exactly how she had started thinking of the Whos in Whoville, and then they both laugh quietly. The verbal equivalent of bumping noses when you kiss, Mulder thinks. It will take some practice.
“I should go,” Scully says, rolling onto her side. She rests her hand flat on his naked chest, studies the contrast. “I have to work tomorrow.”
He doesn’t say anything, which she appreciates, and she doesn’t close them off with the bathroom door as she dresses, which he appreciates.
Emerging, she leans over the bed and kisses him.
As Scully turns away, she feels her heart growing and growing nine times its normal size, threatening to break her chest.
—— 8 ——
v a p o r t r a i l
TITLE: Vapor Trail AUTHOR: Khyber E-MAIL: DISTRIBUTION: Ephemeral, Gossamer, please ask for anywhere else. RATING: PG-13 for implied sex CATEGORIES: SR KEYWORDS: Mulder / Scully romance. SPOILERS: “Je Souhaite.” SUMMARY: Post-ep for “Je Souhaite.” Scully’s not making this too easy.
Disclaimer: Nope, nobody making any money.
Author’s Notes: Khyber versus Season Seven. This is probably the only one you can actually read without the others… but why would you? Check out Kvs7 at http://www.khyberfic.net/vs7.html
By the way, feedback to is always appreciated and always (eventualy) answered.
Thanks to Cathryn, copy editor supreme.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Vapor Trail by khyber
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“So, was that a wish, Mulder?”
“Well, I was gonna go for invisibility, but I’ve heard that isn’t as cool as you’d think.”
I rolled up on one elbow and gave him the expression that meant I wanted an answer. Still, I know Mulder wouldn’t wish for me, not for himself. The guilt would crush him, drive him into a basement forever. Mulder doesn’t like shortcuts. He needs to feel as though he’s earned it.
“No, seriously,” he said, “that was apparently my native charm and the undeniable romantic appeal of Caddyshack.”
“I was trying to think of a way to get out of watching the last half of Caddyshack. Maybe it was my wish.”
He looks slightly relieved that I’m joking with him.
“You know, women, you don’t realize the power Chevy Chase has over you. Works every time.”
He likes the way it’s going this time. Mulder’s had enough of the seductions, the dark, scenery-mangling affairs with loaded phrases and impossible promises. He likes being absolved of the guilt, if there is any.
Something sweet just inside his doorway. Sitting in a Denny’s for dinner in Missouri four evenings ago, making fun of the menu like nothing had happened in my motel room a half hour before. An hour ago, me rolling across the couch to straddle him and growling to turn the damn movie off.
He started it, though. For a moment immediately before that awful Kenny Loggins song started, he glanced down at my lips, my neck, in a way that hinted of possession. I was undone, as they used to say.
“So are you going to tell me what that last wish was?” Mulder laughed. He was lying on his back, I on my side, sheet tucked and tugged to flatter me a little.
“Why, are you suspicious?”
“Well, it’s a very practical concern. I mean, trouble, often fatal trouble, seems to follow wherever her carpet lands.”
He waits a few seconds, clearly trying to think of the right words.
“That won’t be a problem anymore.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Scully’s front door closed, leaving two-thirty Saturday morning behind her. She imagined that she smelled of him and waited by the door, as if the molecular signature of him would somehow announce her through the apartment.
She used to write these things down; later, went through a brief period of saying them to herself. That seemed vaguely unbalanced, and was abandoned. In Africa she wrote again, pages and pages, most of it carefully burned or lost or shredded.
In the interest of full disclosure, she would begin, let me make it clear that I for one will be immensely surprised if I wake up five years, or one year, or ever for that matter, with anyone besides Mulder. I don’t want it any other way.
Not to mention, she would continue to her imaginary interlocutor, that even thinking about Mulder with anyone else starts a black fire in my barren womb that makes me want to hunt her down, whoever she would be.
She’d tried to imagine it, as recently as a few months ago. Mulder would meet someone, maybe on a case. A social worker or a well-meaning junior DA, brunette of course, outwardly a little kooky but steel deep inside. Some struggle in the past has burnished her to a warm glow. She might have a child already, a boy.
Scully wasn’t sure how, but there would be some moment when she would let Mulder know it was all right, that he could go to this new lover. He could share a real life with this lovely, sweet, funny woman with glasses and a bad laugh.
And I would be the remembered sting of the harpoon in her back, the ache that would never go away, the helpless memory of an accident.
Scully had formed these words and never shared them. She may have whispered them, at some point, just to hear them in her own voice.
The fear you could never share with him would be of me. I would never, ever call him back from you. But you would know that I could.
She left her keys by the door, draping her jacket over the back of a kitchen chair.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“You released her, didn’t you.”
I touched him, carefully, running my fingertip over his bare shoulder. I rarely start the touching; that’s almost always his job. But I was having trouble keeping everything in line, fresh from an orgasm that felt like it gently removed my skeleton and left it lying beside the bed. My hand continues on his chest, and one of my feet slides over his calf.
“Yeah, I did.”
“I though you might.”
“Because while you’re probably not the first person who’s thought of it, you’re the first who would actually do it.”
“Was that a very, very backhanded compliment?”
“No. It’s a real compliment. It sounds funny in this day and age, Mulder, but you’re an honorable man. An occasionally foolish and frustrating one, but an honorable one.”
On that note, I rolled on my back, drawing myself up on my elbows and beginning to look around for my clothes. Mulder’s hand ran down my bicep. I tensed it like a teenage boy.
“Are you going?” he asked.
“I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing.”
“Well, don’t go yet.”
“I don’t know, Mulder…”
I should have been able to do better than that. I didn’t want to leave, but there was something old and chilly pushing me between my shoulder blades, pushing me up and out of his bed.
“Scully, it’s one in the morning. It’s Friday anyway. Are you going to make me get sentimental here?”
“This should be good,” I said. Temporarily reprieved from carrying out my sacred and lonely duty, I lay down beside him and we reversed our previous positions, Mulder up on one elbow. I knew he was hoping that I’d have a stray hair that needed taking care of, but he had to continue without props.
“I know that we are not supposed to speak of these things. But, I mean, in seven years we… this has happened before, and I think, you know, we usually managed to pick the very wrong times to do the right thing.”
“You’re saying this is the right thing to do?” It came out right, for once, not questioning, actually asking.
“Well, we’re ending up here a lot lately, you’re smiling, and I don’t sense an aura of impending crisis.”
“The time before last was totally a crisis. You’d nearly been killed by mutant tobacco beetles. And two years ago we were pretty out of control for a couple of months, so it’s not completely without precedent.” He was right about the smiling part, though.
“Scully, it feels different, and you know it.”
“You’re right, Mulder, but it’s complicated. I mean, we work together, and after everything that’s happened…”
“Aw, Scully… how can you say that with a straight face? This isn’t like we’re waking up after a Christmas party gone wrong and going ‘oh, shit, what’s your name again?’”
He’s right. That was embarrassingly weak, like a parody of something I would have said years ago.
“I’m not sure I mean that, Mulder. I think it’s just some sort of conditioned response. I have to say it.”
“I’m not sure what I mean either. But I don’t want to forget this, Scully, I don’t want to pretend it’s not there.”
“So, what…? The same, with admittedly extraordinary sex on a slightly more regular basis?”
What I meant to say was that he was a crazy and beautiful man, and that we should immediately move to Fiji and become scuba instructors. However, I wasn’t entirely sure he wouldn’t have just agreed with me.
“Verging on paranormal.” He chuckled. “I don’t know, Scully. I told Skinner a few years ago that my future plans were in the X-files somewhere.”
“If you tell me that your future plans are me, I am so not going to believe you.”
“That’s not exactly where I’m going,” he began. The way he hesitated let me know I’d caught him out. “But what if you were right that morning before I went off chasing crop circles in England? What if all that’s in the X-files is more X-files?”
“Am I really hearing this, Mulder?” I tried to make it sound like I was calling bullshit, but he moved close to me and I was betrayed, suddenly conscious of the warm rush of contentment. The nearness of his body reminded me of being held, touched, penetrated, adored. The urge to purr and snuggle and do other terrible things was almost overwhelming. I smiled at him. “No, keep talking, this is going to be pure gold for future arguments.”
“I can’t do this anymore, Scully. This bullshit, this now-and-again pretending thing. I’ve told you all the serious stuff before. You are my touchstone, my one in five billion. You believed me. But I want to be able to just tangle my fingers in your hair…” He did, running a hand back from my temple and just over my ear. It was slow, it felt like a full-body massage, and I caught myself wanting to mewl. “I want to put my mouth right here,” he whispered, pressing his face into my neck, “and lay still, and breathe you in. I want that to be all right.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
So what brings Dr. Scully, Sister Spooky, to her neatly made lonely bed at three o’clock on a Saturday morning? Mulder believes everything he says, Dana thought as she looked at her mirrored self under harsh bathroom light, but he’ll say it to get what he wants. There is always that slight twinge, that Mulder says these things because he wants something. Even if it’s something that wants him back, I just can’t let him get away with it.
I needed to do this tonight, she thought, exercise those muscles one last time, let my old heat shield burn a bright trail as I enter a new atmosphere. I know he’s down there, waiting for me, and there’s so much I need to burn away.
She said it out loud, to hear it in her own voice.
“There’s so much I need to burn away, Mulder.”
Dana thought she heard an echo, as if the years of silence in her dwelling had caused it to grow cavernous. His name attached itself unbidden, sealing and stamping the words and sending them on their way.
—— 9 ——
p o e m s
TITLE: Poems AUTHOR: Khyber E-MAIL: DISTRIBUTION: Ephemeral, Gossamer, please ask for anywhere else. RATING: PG-13 for mature content CATEGORIES: V,R,A KEYWORDS: Mulder/Scully SPOILERS: S3 SUMMARY: Post-ep for “Wetwired.” This is part of Khyber versus Season Seven (Kvs7). If you haven’t read everything else in the series up until this point, particularly “Home From The War”, “Coyote Luck”, and “Where I End And You Begin” you’re probably going to wonder what’s going on and what this has to do with anything.
Many thanks to Cathryn as always.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
NORTHEAST GEORGETOWN MEDICAL CENTER
May 2, 1996
In her fifteenth year Dana Scully thought she might have poetry in her, that there was something there besides the A’s in science and algebra and trig and the A-minuses in everything else. But blank pages didn’t even do her the honor of mocking her. They just sat blank, occasionally getting intricate ink scrollwork in the corners to frame the emptiness in the middle.
Everyone believes for a time at a similar age that they are a poet, an artist, a musician. The happiest of them are unaware that they are terrible guitarists, atrocious writers, awful painters. It’s simply enough that they are.
Dana didn’t even have that. The page was blank. She wasn’t even a lousy poet; she was no more a poet than she was five-foot-nine.
“We’re alive.” The glass door of the shower clicks open. Mulder looks at her and it is utterly transparent, clear like glass and water drops, that he thinks she’s beautiful.
It was a perfect moment of her creation, and in a careful, sensible way that she did not allow herself to fully imagine lest it seem trite, she felt that she had created a poem that night.
There had been others, but they were mostly his. Mulder was a poet, with the frustrating unconscious and heedless brilliance he brought to everything.
These were not things that Dana, in her thirty-first year and confined to the hospital, was quite willing to put into words.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
We were ghouls, but we were a pair of them at least. Thinking about China made us want Chinese food. We went for dim sum, I think it was called. Mulder knew, it was a Hong Kong thing. Carts rolled around the restaurant, bringing tiny plates, strange things in baskets and leaves. I didn’t know rolls came in something besides “egg.”
The tastes were unfamiliar. Mulder didn’t know what anything was either, but it turned out that everything non-cubic and non- gelatinous was safe. Except “phoenix claws.”
That morning we had been together, she remembered. Deep down, she knew that they had made love, but was unwilling to apply the label.
“So. We’ve got a few hours to kill,” she’d said, when he knocked on the door of her hotel room.
“Yes, we do.” He’d pulled her light sweater from her belt, put her back in the unmade bed. One of those hours died quickly at their hands.
It was like an actual date, except in reverse. They score first, then have flirty and loaded conversation over lunch after. A rendezvous, perhaps, since the feeling that it was somehow illicit was strong.
They were like sleeper agents, going days, a week without the slightest hint of their true intentions. Dana needed things to be right, needed to be rested, clean, not pissed off at him. The sex —six times now?—was amazing. She was, or would say if required to sound knowing, used to patient, considerate older men who’d learned the right buttons to push from their first wives. They made her a project, like building a birdhouse from a set of plans, and it did work. Mulder came at her like a poet, throwing pen to paper, lips to skin, without worrying about how it would end.
He took her hand when they left the Chinese restaurant, until they needed to jog to beat a changing light.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Mulder’s only ever elegant in repose, managing to stretch out on the precarious support of the chair beside her hospital bed. She’s been conscious of how other women look at him for months. She’s terrible with other women.
“Mulder, I’ve been thinking.”
He does something. It’s a small, fine, thing he’s never done before, not in this exact way. The voice is different. He’s laughing a little, just a bit, in the gentlest way she’s heard from him, and he runs his fingers very gently into the hair at the side of her face.
“If I can hang my psychologist’s shingle up for a minute, I’m almost certain that this is a bad time to be thinking.”
It’s this, she thinks, this is what he can do right, this heedless art of touch and words. She enjoys it for a moment and then gently pushes his hand away.
“Mulder, what if I’d shot you?”
He leans back in the chair, in his frustrated-casual way, like they’re arguing about dinosaur tracks.
“What if you’d shot your mother?”
“Jesus, Mulder, don’t say that,” she fires back.
“I’m just saying we can’t know what situations… I mean, if there’s any lesson of the past few months, it’s that.” He looks as if he’s examining the possibility for the first time himself. “I’ve chosen … this is a dangerous path.”
“Mulder… I think we should…”
The pause between them stretches for seconds, as if their conversation were radio waves between distant moons.
“I think you may be right,” he says evenly.
Mulder, you’re supposed to win arguments, she thinks. You’re supposed to be right. Don’t do this, Mulder. You’re supposed to talk me out of this, bring me around.
Of all the times for you to agree with me.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
She stands in the doorway of her bedroom, naked, small fingers digging into the peel of an orange. Mulder’s used to calculated poses: Phoebe’s leggy strutting, Diana’s calm awareness of her knockout curves. He can tell that Scully’s suddenly conscious of herself and his eyes, adjusting her posture. She’s doing this for him.
Mulder feels his mouth go dry and stupid.
“G-Gerson’s definitely lying,” he says. “We should go talk to his wife again; I think she just wants to get this all over with.”
Scully’s shoulders slump forward slightly. She abandons the orange, half-stripped, and looks for a T-shirt to pull on.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Hospital rooms, by design, nature, or symbolism, magnify the fractures. There’s no perspective available; every conversation has the exhausted rawness and ultimate futility of a whispered argument at three A.M.
“I, uh, I don’t know how much we’ve thought this through.”
“Damn it, Mulder!”
“What do you want me to say?” Say it’s a dangerous path again, you pompous asshole, he thinks. This is Scully. Scully knows most of your shit and sticks around anyway.
“I don’t know what I want you to say. I’m trying to get you to say something and I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what I want to hear.”
She sounds to herself like a crazy girlfriend, like what men complain to each other about. She can hear it in herself. Mulder. Please. I know that there is something here, that there’s something between us, and it’s just too big and deep and strange for me to accept even though I know it’s there. I need to know that you see it, because if you do, I know that I will too, because that is how we are, that is who we are. She can hear it in herself but the words are not ready.
“That makes two of us.”
It’s the sound of himself in high school, making up for being scared too often and lost too often by always having the snappy comeback. He wants to pull it back but he can’t.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Three days, Mulder. Three days. You disappeared.”
He can tell that she’s trying to pull him aside, that this is an argument she doesn’t want to have with an audience of detectives and police cars.
“I was working.”
“That’s not working, Mulder, that’s drowning. Patterson set a trap for you and you walked right in.”
“Patterson set a trap for himself, Scully. You know that. I was the trap. I was the only one who could solve the case.”
“You can’t do that Mulder. You can’t just…”
“What? I can’t work alone? Profiling’s not a team sport.”
The voice she responds with is one he knows only from the times they steal.
“That’s not what I mean and you…fine. Fine.”
She turns quickly, glancing around to make sure they hadn’t attracted anyone’s attention, and leaves him in as discreet a huff as she can.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Mulder looks back as he leaves the hospital room. She’s looking at the window; with the shades drawn you can’t look out, but it’s the only way to look away from him.
He thinks of himself, throwing his hands up when he came into the room, the strange look her mother gave him. He thinks of being tongue-tied, how Phoebe would laugh at him, Diana would coo and kiss his forehead, how Scully would just wait, wait, wait,because maybe this would be the time he would say the right thing.
Dana Scully, in her thirty-first year, still has no poetry in her. She waits until the door clicks shut, staring carefully at the shaded window, and then she cries.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Hey Scully, it’s me. Look, I was wondering, this little West Coast adventure here, ummm, I was wondering if you wanted to go up to the Bay Area with me for a couple days.”
“What’s in the Bay Area?”
“Giant squid.” He waited a beat, until he heard her starting to speak. “No, seriously, remember my friend in Berkeley? I figured what the hell, since… I dropped him a line and he said they wanted us, uh, me, uh anyway we’d have a place to stay for a couple days, and, you know, we can hang around San Fran without having to dig up any graves.”
He described us as an “us”, to a they, she thought.
“I mean, unless you really want to dig up a grave. I’ll probably pass unless you find something really cool.” There was uncertainty in the little laugh he gave his own joke. “We could do the hotel thing, or I could stay at his place.”
“Um… Yeah. Yes. Okay. Let’s do that.”
—— 10 ——
t h e w a t e r s k i e r s
TITLE: The Waterskiers AUTHOR: Khyber E-MAIL: DISTRIBUTION: Ephemeral, Gossamer, please ask for anywhere else. RATING: R for mature content. CATEGORIES: XR KEYWORDS: Withheld. SPOILERS: Pbbblffft. SUMMARY: Missing scenes… okay, a LOT of missing scenes… from “Hollywood AD.”
Author’s Notes: This story is part of “Khyber Versus Season Seven” and takes place during “Hollywood AD,” specifically, following the end of the famous bathtub scene. The rest of the episode takes place a week or more after the end of this story.
Remember that the premiere of “The Lazarus Bowl,” according to the episode, is “eighteen months later,” sometime in late 2001.
This is be a good time to remind everyone that “Khyber Versus Season Seven” depends on internal canon. It is strongly suggested that you read/watch the episodes in order— see http://www.khyberfic.net/vs7.html for details.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Twelve days later
Hollywood. Los Angeles. El Lay. Hell-A. Mulder had never gotten his head around it. He’d never seen a lonelier place in his life, never seen so many people talking past each other. He was looking forward to leaving.
He was looking forward to leaving with Scully.
“Mulder.” Skinner was outside the hotel, waiting for the valet to bring his car around, just as Mulder arrived to do the same thing. He glanced at Mulder’s suitcase.
“You on your way back to DC?”
“No, no, actually, we’re going up to the Bay Area, gonna visit a friend of mine in Berkeley, hang around San Francisco for a couple of days.”
“We, you and Agent Scully…”
“Oh.” Skinner was suddenly very interested in the line of taxis. “Driving?”
“Yeah. Better snacks than airlines. You going back to DC?”
“Not for a couple days, I’ve got a ‘development meeting’ with Wayne and some people this afternoon.”
“Development meeting with people! Tres cool. Look, if you need to ‘call your people’ during the meeting, just dial me. If you want, I could call you and you could either blow me off or ignore them. That’d look even better.”
“It’s an opportunity to show off the Bureau in a good light, Agent Mulder.”
Scully had briefly considered waiting in the lobby until Skinner… went somewhere. Mulder was probably better equipped to handle any explanations than she was. She hoped he’d taken care of it as she joined the two men outside the main doors of the hotel.
“Hey Scully,” Mulder grinned. “AP Skinner is off to a development meeting.”
“Remember to thank the little people.” It sort of flew out of her mouth, the first thing that came into her head, an actual one-liner. Skinner ignored it slightly more studiously than he would from Mulder as the valet brought his rental.
“We’ll see you back in DC. Agents,” he said, nodding at them as he took the keys to the big SUV from the uniformed attendant.
“That was curiously awkward,” she said an extended moment after Skinner pulled away. Scully actually studied the toe of her shoe
“Did you know Skinner’s got people now? I’m not sure if they’re as little as yours,” Mulder said. She smiled thinly at him, wondering when she’d borrowed his sense of humor, and when the valet would arrive with their car. Their car. “Skin-man’s fine,” he continued. “Froese and Barnhardt go on vacation together all the time.”
“Yes,” she replied, “with their wives and children.”
“Froese and Barnhardt are perfect for each other, they just don’t know how to admit it.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“So, your friend can’t be too much like the Gunmen if he has a wife.”
It’s almost six hours from Hollywood to Berkeley. We could have flown, but we’re pros at driving. It’s been years since the first joke was made about becoming truckers when we eventually get fired from the Bureau, though no comments have ever been made on how we’d divide up the sleeper cab. And, to be completely accurate, I’m a pro at driving, and Scully’s a pro at sleeping in the car, which is how she spent the first three hours after she’d checked the map and satisfied herself that even I couldn’t get lost between North Hollywood and the East Bay.
“Well, she is a robot,” I say. “No, I don’t know anything about her, I hadn’t spoken to Thomas in about five years when I got the invite to their wedding last spring. We were friends in the Academy because he was almost as weird as I was. He quit the Bureau probably about the same time you joined. Wanted to do something with computers and the Internet, and you know how good the Bureau is at that.”
There’s no way around this next one. I decided to get it out here, on the interstate, where she’d really have to go to a lot of trouble to wrestle the wheel from me, stop the car and flee back to DC.
“In the interests of full disclosure… Thomas was my best man when Diana and I got married. That was kind of how we got back in touch this fall. I emailed him when she… I figured he’d want to know.”
She’s silent, practically drowning. When we’re doing this, to the extent we’re doing it, the existence of a world outside the X-Files is utterly taboo for Scully. The casual mention of the fact that Byers was coming to my place to feed my fish had caused a twenty-minute storm of carefully disguised existential crisis on the flight from DC. Byers feeding the fish meant that she wasn’t. That meant, to her, that Byers and probably by extension all the guys knew that we were on vacation together, and they’d be sitting around like old spinster aunts talking about it for a week.
“By the way, Thomas didn’t like her. Well, that’s not true. He definitely didn’t think I should have married her, and he told me so at the time.”
I’ll stop there for now. I can tell she’s nervous. Scully doesn’t know what to wear tonight, and I don’t mean classy or casual. In fact, I don’t really know what she’s packed for the trip.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
San Pablo, California
“So, there’s this substance called ‘slurry,’ which is what ends up becoming animal feed, usually.”
“Oh, my God,” Thomas says, “I am so glad that A, we are done eating, and B, we’re vegetarians.” The house is so beautiful it makes Dana hurt with ashamed envy. Thomas is shorter than Mulder, with unruly, boyish red hair and freckles. He wears shorts, twisted leather bracelets, and his hands are ferociously callused from rock climbing. He says “awesome” and “man,” and would be a very cool uncle. Katja is like the house—beautifully constructed, lushly organic-looking and funkily decorated, but too welcoming to hate. She has a Mediterranean complexion and a Slavic accent that gets stronger as she drinks. At first, Scully doesn’t want to stand near her. She’s not used to looking up that far at other women.
“There’s this slurry vat with ten thousand gallons of shoulder-deep pulverised cow leftovers. And Mulder, of, course, has climbed into it.” She’s telling the story this time; a warm ethanolic lift giving her words a shimmer of attraction. She’s never really told an X-File story before, not like this.
“It was like being in a warm beef margarita.” Leave it to Mulder to take the absurdist punchline, but they’re a hit, Thomas laughing and slapping the table as he goes over to the granite-topped island that could sleep four.
“Aren’t these stories classified or something?” Katja laughed. “If not, could they be? Please?” Thomas begins refilling their glasses with lush red. There was probably some subdivision of what kind of red it was beyond that, but she’d lost track.
“Oh, God, more wine.” It just comes out of her mouth, unconsidered. It amazes her, how directly these things can work— thought, mouth, no filters. It’s like speaking a simpler language.
“I can cut you off any time you want. Besides, red wine’s health food, and we dirty hippies know our health food.” Thomas pours like a maitre’d, with a twist at the end. “So, Mulder. We’ve heard lots of funny Mulder stories, enough to know that I’m going to buy you mitten strings for your gun. Tell us a funny Dana story.” Mulder leans back in his chair, picks up his wine glass.
“Oh no…” She’s suddenly conscious, by its sudden absence, of his hand.
They’d been holding hands across the corner of the table.
Mulder looks at her and wags his eyebrows, a gentle smile on his face.
“In fact,” Mulder eyes the level of his recently filled wine glass, tilting it slightly, “in fact, most of the Scully stories I remember usually have something to do with her being unbelievably brave, or loyal, or brilliant, or some combination of all three.”
Katja meets her eyes, smiling beautifully as Thomas, laughing, rocked back in his chair, glass in the air.
“Oh! Oh! I bow down! Ten thousand points for a stunning reverse burn!”
“Well, okay,” Mulder says, “there was the time that our rental got upgraded to an SUV, and her feet couldn’t reach the pedals, but she refused to either admit it or return the truck, and she snuck out at midnight to go to Dairy Queen and rear-ended a guy in the drive-through.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Here, let me help clear this up…” Scully said. Katja was doing things Dana wanted to have the experience of doing. She didn’t get to wash dishes. She piled up glasses, the occasional bowl smeared with yogurt. It was silly to use the dishwasher for one glass, so she waited until the dishwasher was full of glasses. If you’re living right, you should use pots, pans, scrub pads.
“No, no, sit down…” Scully heard a future in Katja’s voice, a phrase she would use as a sweet but formidable grandmother, still tall and beautiful at sixty.
“If I sit down I’m going to drink another glass of wine and then I’m going to end up sleeping at the table.”
“Hey Fox!” Katja pronounced it “Fah-kz.” “You’re going to have to carry Dana to bed.” Scully felt herself blushing, not just from the five glasses of wine. That too, but her mind wrapped itself in observer’s paradoxes and assumptions. She tried to imagine what they thought, imagining her and Mulder together. She couldn’t detach from it, though, and just ended up distracting herself from the important task of stacking things that were relatively similar, getting in Katja’s way scraping things into the garbage under the sink.
They talked of basic things, to the extent she felt she could.
“What do you do?”
“I sleep with Thomas!” Katja said loudly. “Isn’t that right?” Thomas looked over from the table.
“What was that? I mean, yes, you do, but what was the context?”
“Dana asked me what I do.”
“Katja’s an artist,” Thomas said. “She’s pretending to be modest again.”
Mulder nodded appreciatively.
“Artist,” Katja said, “means ‘unemployed crazy woman stealing stuff from junkyards.’” Dana realized that the curious, swooping works of wood and metal scattered around the house were probably Katja’s. You have a vision of internally directed motion, she wanted to say, but it sounded clumsy and strange.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“I love your kitchen. I love your whole place.” There, that was the kind of thing women said to each other. They were on the back patio, night air cool reminding of nearby Pacific. They’d left Mulder and Thomas talking about baseball. Katja was smoking, with what Scully recognized as the unconsciousness of the lifer. There was a plum tree in the backyard. They have a goddamn plum tree.
“Yeah, thom-dot-com does pretty well by his refugee camp Cinderella.”
“Oh, you probably didn’t hear that part. Yeah. I’m from Bosnia. You remember, we were famous for a while.”
Katja gives her a silly grimace, rolls her eyes. Scully feels stung, like she’s ruined a moment.
“Why, were you a sniper?”
“Sorry,” Scully replied. “I’m being stupid. It seems like what you say. I can’t imagine going through that.”
Katja puts a hand on her arm. The sting recedes; it’s okay. This is how it works with people.
“I can’t imagine half the things you’ve gone through, either, from the sound of it. The war was there. I was there. It happened. Now I’m here.” Katja stubbed out the remains of her cigarette in a little patterned earthenware pot. “It does put the search for a really good organic olive oil in perspective, though.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Walter remembered seeing Sherice on a magazine as he paid for gas, nameless and eye-catching, tugging at the bikini tie on her hip. Her eyes were huge and liquid, velvety brown. Sherice was sparkly, glitter on her neck and her unspeakably perfect cleavage. Sherice’s skin was the color of a coffee that Scully would drink twice a week, something that cost four bucks and smelled like cookies.
She and Taryn had unselfconsciously done a line of coke each, Wayne declining. Walter had gotten the idea that laws ranging from possession of narcotics to gravity were different here, and he didn’t really have jurisdiction. He’d waved off the Colombian and sipped at his whiskey again.
Sherice was barely half his age but nearly as tall, five-ten at least and he couldn’t decide which part of her to concentrate on.
Taryn and Wayne had gone into the jacuzzi on the deck. Taryn had stripped outside the glass door, curved and tanlined and blonde and neatly trimmed in a way that should verge on parody, but your dick didn’t mind.
Sherice apparently worked a bit like a development meeting. The more you sat there and the less you said, the more it drove them crazy, the more they talked about how they liked you.
Her thighs looked impossibly smooth even up close beside him on the couch. She barely had pores; her skin made him think of ice cream or a Mercedes.
“…always liked older men but it’s a pain in the ass out here, they’re all trying to actualize themselves and going for therapy nine times a week. You don’t seem like a therapy guy.”
“Well, I do cherish my appointments with Dr. Walker.” He raised his glass. Apparently it was the right thing to say. Sherice took it from him, sipped, licked her perfect lips and leaned in towards him.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
I should be exhausted. Drove from Hollywood to Berkeley. Huge dinner. Wine. Walk in the hills. Dessert and wine. More wine. It’s one-thirty in the morning and I’m smiley, drowsy drunk but not yet asleep. I should not be thinking the thoughts I’m thinking. Mulder is being unbelievably solicitous (though I am certain he’s viewing it as an investment), carried t-shirt and scrub pants down the hall to the bathroom to change. I don’t know what he’s thinking, exactly, but I bet that when he comes back he’s going to arrow straight for the couch, which is barely more than a love seat, and I am sure is two feet too small for him. God, this bedroom is gorgeous. He’s planning to peck me on the cheek maybe, if he feels lucky, and arrange himself on the couch while I have this bed all to myself.
I move quickly while he’s in the bathroom, finishing barely, pardon the pun, seconds before he enters the room. I think it takes him two or three seconds to realize what’s going on, and he fortunately manages to close the door through some reflexive action.
“You don’t look like you’re quite ready for bed, Mulder.” My throat’s a little dry as I say it. It’s a lame line but I don’t think he’s keeping track.
He tries very, very hard to smolder. But I’m grinning at him, lying naked on my belly, resting on my elbows. One of my feet decides that the picture would be more complete if it kicked itself coquettishly in the air. Mulder’s smolder fizzles. He’s looking at me like it’s Christmas morning and I’m a spunky puppy with a new ball glove in my teeth, riding a shiny red bicycle in circles around a telescope.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“You were watching me sleep.”
“You’ve seen me sleep before.”
“I’ve seen the Yankees win before.”
Okay. Fine, I’ll give him that one. He’s lucky in that if I have slept past eight AM, which it appears that I have, I can’t summon up any generalized resentment until at least noon.
“C’mere.” I beckon him, patting the pillow beside me.
Mulder strips off his T-shirt before getting back in bed, which I, drowsy and sun-warmed and judgment-impaired, believe wholeheartedly is the right thing to do. He lies on his back and I go with it, lifting my head onto his shoulder and snugging my (good Lord, I’m completely) naked body up against him. His arm comes up around my shoulders, and I involuntarily make what could be described as a kitten noise. At this point, Mulder is probably thinking that this is the happiest he’s ever been in his whole life, beat, insert sports joke that he doesn’t really mean and is intended to give me an out. I have a slowly rising awareness of a dull throb behind my temples.
“I think I have a hangover.” It was supposed to be a situational observation with a hint of dismay, but it comes out sounding disturbingly like a sleepy and satisfied naked woman scootched up against her chosen significant other. “And we’re supposed to drink more wine today?”
“You know, hair of the dog that bit you.”
“Mulder, that only works if you’re planning to stay drunk for the rest of your life.”
I was driven out of bed by a tingle between my legs that was giving me heretical thoughts of morning sex, without any preliminary primping or even a pretense of seduction.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Whether she was gone or not at that moment wasn’t Walter’s immediate concern. Immediate concern was a couple of damn Advil and as much water as he could pour into himself, then… he fumbled on the bedside table, the ruins of three condom wrappers and then his wristwatch. Quarter after ten.
Where the fuck am I, exactly?
He sat up in bed, noticed that she was, in fact, gone. Looking down, he had sparkles on his chest, his hands. There were sparkles on the fine, smooth sheets. Wayne’s, right, I’m at Wayne’s. He tried to sit up, swinging his feet over the edge of the mattress and banging them up short. It was some kind of futon thing, six inches off the floor, seven feet square, and sitting diagonally in the room. The sunlight baking the bedroom had the lush, gold tone that only SoCal smog could produce.
He flopped back in bed, fumbling his glasses on and poking at his cell phone. The message icon winked.
“Walter, it’s Kim. I hate to bother you, but I’ve got.. well, I’ve got two, a pretty strange message from Kersh on your line— he says to get your ass into his office about this transfer bullshit. That’s a quote. And second, you’ve got a message from ‘a friend’ who says his new number is 410-556-1121. That’s it. Hope you’re having a good vacation.”
He checked his other message, on a torn-out page from a day planner, reminding him that in the past fourteen hours he’d gotten drunk, probably talked an immense amount of shit, and fucked a coke-snorting, sparkly model-actress-something named Sherice who’d left her number. He stood up slowly, stretching until his back cracked, and dialed his phone.
“Wayne, it’s Walter.”
“Skin-man! How you doing? I had a breakfast meeting and I didn’t want to wake you up. You, uh, got any company there, big guy?”
It had been absolutely crazy; he hadn’t gotten laid like that in something like twenty-five years and that had been with someone who really, really liked her work when it involved young Marine officers. Sherice had been like something you’d buy a ticket for. He couldn’t imagine how Wayne had managed to get out of bed this morning after the kind of drinking they’d been doing.
Then again, there was probably a pill for that too.
“No, no I don’t.”
“Probably a good call. If you take her to lunch you’ll have to make sure she gets a callback somewhere and you don’t know the right people yet. Listen, you blew them away at the development meeting yesterday, I’ve been ringing all morning here.”
“What are you talking about? I barely said a word.”
“Exactly. You totally dominated. No one knew what you were thinking. You owned the room. You came off like the real thing. Now, about this afternoon,”
“Wayne, I can’t make it this afternoon, I, uh, I just found out I have to go back to DC early.”
I have to go somewhere, anyway. Somewhere that doesn’t have the memory of Sherice’s bucking hips under my face, somewhere with less of a hangover, somewhere where I don’t imagine them, imagine Scully going through the room gathering evidence. Sparkles, a couple of condoms, into the bag. DNA test. Hey Scully, look at this, he says, party like it’s 1989, and her eyes narrow at the tiny traces of white powder.
“That’s perfect! Seriously. I was going to say not to come, just to keep the mystique alive.”
“Oh, yeah. It’ll seem totally authentic. You’re my hero, Skinman. Comes in out of nowhere. Blows them away at one development meeting. Bangs a Maxim cover his first night in LA. And then… leaves to go kick some bad guy ass. You keep this up I’m gonna have to get Samuel L. Jackson to play you. That cool, mi hermano. That cool.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Mulder’s friend booked a tour for us of a half dozen organic, eco-, community-, enviro-whatever wineries north of here. I should say our friends. They were wonderful people, we had a wonderful time. I have Katja’s email address, though I’m not sure what I’m supposed to write. I’ll start with the rest of our trip (assuming it doesn’t turn into a maze of killer dolls).
We spent the day being carted through gorgeous country in the sunshine in an open-topped van, getting drunk on fabulous wine, and eating ourselves silly. There were real live human beings on the bus, none of whom were cops or coroners or social workers.
It was a setup, obviously. It would be impossible not to have a wonderful day under these circumstances (although last year I would have tried very hard). I could have handled spending a day like this with Flukeman, as long as he kept his flippers to himself. I’ve just had a thorough and decadent bubble bath, and have almost certainly ruled out creeping into Mulder’s room. I’m too tired for the full treatment and I don’t know if I can handle intentional snuggle sex quite yet.
I also think he probably wouldn’t be able to resist telling me he loves me, and I don’t know if I can handle that yet either.
I know you’d say “go to him,” “open yourself up to your feelings” or some other hippie crap like that. I’m trying. The door of my feelings has really rusty hinges, and I’m afraid if I force it, it’ll break. (wasn’t that an an awful metaphor?)
I wish I could tell you this. Maybe I am doing this to remind myself, punish myself by remembering what brought me here. How do I honor this memory, how do I honor the trail of beloved and anonymous dead behind us? If everything happens for a reason, this can’t all have happened so I can sip Chardonnay with Mulder’s arm around me.
I know what you would say. You’d tell me not to question, tell me that love is precious, tell me that you don’t honor the dead by refusing to live.
I think I’m going to [ctrl-A del]
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Deputy Director Alvin Kersh’s Office FBI Headquarters Washington, DC
“Thanks for coming up, Walter. I thought you were on vacation.”
“I had some plans change, I’ll take the days another time.”
“You want to go get a coffee?”
“No, I’m okay if you are.”
“All right… look, can I get the asshole stuff over with first? Then I want to hear about this movie issue.”
“This is bullshit, Walter.” Kersh slid a piece of paper towards him. Skinner pretended not to recognize his own signature on it.
“This, this request to transfer to the Tactical Support Branch. You want my reference on this. Are you out of your mind?”
Walter decided to play it straight. He didn’t need to explain himself, he thought.
“I’ve got the qualifications. I could pass the selection course if they want to do it that way.”
“I’m not even gonna ask them how they want to do it, Walter, and I don’t doubt you could climb ropes and bash in Coke machines with your head with all the young pups. Of course you’re qualified, you’re over-qualified. At your grade you’d have to run the damn branch.” He shook his head in slow dismay. “And what you really want is to kick down some doors. Get some.”
Skinner looked away, as if scolded.
“You turned fifty last year, right?” Kersh continued. “Fifty. Gonna blow your knee out kicking down doors, getting some.” Kersh looked at the paper one last time, then balled it up with one hand. “Buy a Corvette or bang a twenty-five-year-old waitress or something. Jesus. Even if we are just talking about your career, you need a little less rock and roll on your resume, not more.”
“Look, you want to go to something corporate side, OPR, something like that, I’d support it in a second. But I’m not going to recommend you on your mid-life crisis if that’s what this is.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Somewhere in Washington, DC
The entire building was a masterpiece of American Nonexistent. Secrecy through neutrality. From the unmarked front doors to the uniforms that said only “Security Guard” to the anonymous visitor passes, it shunned ostentation as a threat to its real agenda.
The smoker’s office was on the third floor, and Walter had to let himself in. The secretary’s desk in the outer office looked unused.
“Mr. Skinner! In here. I’m glad you could come on such short notice.”
“What’s all this?” Skinner looked around the office. The dark, heavy furniture was a bad match with the medium blue carpet, and the two offices were poorly arranged, though spacious. The smoker followed Skinner’s glance, shrugged.
“Something like a rather comfortable house arrest.” His tone was indignant, like he’d been served with dirty cutlery. “You know, the Byzantines, they considered it wrong to actually execute a deposed emperor, against God’s will. So to prevent him from ever trying to return to power, they would cut off his nose, mutilate him, so he could never again rally support.”
Skinner looked around the office.
“It worked until Justinian the Second.”
“They’re keeping you off the streets, anyway.”
Spender grinned, wolfishly. Skinner remembered that look. He’d seen it on the real bad motherfuckers, the guys going in-country alone. Captain’s bars and no units, guys who didn’t talk when they were drunk or high, guys who didn’t have a pet gun or any lucky charms, didn’t write letters to their wives. The grin would come when Skinner’s men would start talking shit about how tough Marines were, and it usually meant some tough Marine was going to end up on the floor whimpering and trying to breathe while the bad motherfucker grinned.
“I like the streets, sometimes. Let’s go for a walk.”
Skinner followed Spender down the hallway. They took the stairs, exiting the building through a small exit into a tiny parking lot. There was, nevertheless, a security desk there. Spender ignored the guard. In the absence of any guidance, Skinner hung onto the visitors’ badge. Spender walked briskly for a block or so, then stopped suddenly near an alley. The older man began to light a cigarette as Skinner looked around at the strange angles, corners and edges of buildings cutting each other off. He realized that Spender had probably cased the entire block beforehand for surveillance cameras.
“I wanted to ask you if you’d be interested in helping on a small mission,” Spender asked after his first drag.
“Why?” Skinner tried to sound disgusted.
“It’s good work, Mr. Skinner. A noble act in and of itself, and supporting the right agenda.”
As if encouraged by Skinner’s silence, the smoker continued.
“You’d need to come up to New York State with me. There’s a group of people… civilians, who had the misfortune to be involved in another group’s project. They’ve been liberated, but they’re not yet secure where we can care for them.”
“Looked like you had lots of manpower back there.”
“A sizable number of those men are there for the express purpose of making certain I behave.”
“And you’re planning to misbehave.”
“I have some resources of my own, and I’m allowed more. I can always find spear-carriers. Certain tasks require a human touch, some understanding. As well as an ability to handle… unusual circumstances.”
Skinner was silent.
“It’s important. It’s good work.” The smoker hesitated. “Might be dangerous.”
Skinner looked up and down the street once.
“You know how to reach me. I need to know sometime tonight if you’re in. There’s a timeline. These people need help, Mr. Skinner.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
They’d been recognized in the cab.
I know you! the driver said; you were on Cops, the one with the werewolf, and the Nightmare on Elm Street. I knew that wasn’t real. That was so funny, man. I knew you were actors. They ran it again and I taped that. My, that was funny!
Scully played along, asked what gave it away.
“I seen police everywhere, police here, police in England, police home, in Kenya, and no police I ever seen look like you! When police look like you, miss, that day I be trying to get arrested! You want to see my papers, sure, I say, my phone number is right there!”
Scully nodded thanks, blushing slightly. Mulder grinned. He took that as an in to ask the cab driver for a restaurant suggestion, which had brought them to a stunningly junky dive in the Haight. Mulder had never had Eritrean; Scully wasn’t sure she’d ever heard of Eritrea.
“You know, I still can’t believe they got Leoni. I know you think she’s hot, but that wig looks terrible.”
The food verged on incomprehensible. The plate was two feet wide, spread with several huge, spongy -textured pancakes and small servings of what Scully would hesitantly guess were stews or curries. Tiny lentils seemed to feature prominently, as did two shelled, hard-boiled eggs, cooked in some sort of reddish sauce and perched in the center of the platter.
“It’s a very, y’know, generic kind of hot”, Mulder had to go for the centerpiece first, picking up one of the eggs in his fingers and biting it in half. “Whoo. Speaking of hot…”
The server showed them how to eat with their hands, picking up little dollops of the stews in bits of the spongy bread. The tactile sensation was enjoyably foreign. Scully felt her lips burning, and her ruined sense of taste allowed her a shadow of familiar bases— cabbage, carrots, lamb— with very odd things done to them. Odd was good, as it had been three years since she could tell plain salmon from plain chicken except by the texture.
“I mean… what’s her… Julianne Moore,” Scully said. “She’d have been great.”
“She’s hot.” Mulder nodded appreciatively, watching her eyes narrow. “And it’s really important that the composite of Dana Scully be played by an authentic redhead,” he added.
“On the other hand, Shandling is perfect for you.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Doctor Walker had opened his office on Skinner’s coffee table. It was hard finding someone who made housecalls these days, but Doc Walker was a Southerner with old-fashioned manners and made exceptions for his friends. Especially for friends who didn’t screw around with ice.
He’d started watching a movie on TV, but either it ended or he’d turned it off. The narrative had been interfering with the drinking anyway. His ribs and his neck hurt now, bruises rising, and his shoulders would be killing him tomorrow. After talking to Kersh he’d gone to the gym and fought like a mad old bulldog. He’d been trying to feel Hollywood sweating out like the poison of a hangover, slough off sparkles and Scotch, Sherice’s French manicure and development meetings.
So this is what I’m up to. How about you two? What the hell did they do, anyway? Dinner and a movie?
He imagined them driving north, out of the smog and the yellow sun, into suburbs and exurbs and finally the cool hills of the north. Scully wears sunglasses, Mulder drives. She would eat ice cream and Mulder would glance over, lingering. Mulder knows what her mouth feels like.
Doctor Walker swirled lazily in the glass as Walter stared at the telephone.
He imagined them sleeping in two little beds with space in between, like those two guys on Sesame Street. Ernie and fucking Bert. It didn’t help, and he didn’t know exactly what he needed the help with.
Spender answered on the first ring.
“All right,” Walter said, feeling deceptively sober. “When do we leave?”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
We’re in San Diego, La Jolla to be exact, which was completely unplanned. Actually, it was directly contrary to the plan, at least the part about Mulder being here with me. Us being in a horrifyingly-beyond-G-person-standard boutique hotel with a shared king bed and a glorious view of the rocky lookout point south of the beach, that had not been in the plan either.
The plan began to fall apart back in Berkeley. Thomas and Katja were off to Seattle, apparently, but insisted on leaving us the keys to their house for the one more night we were supposed to be in the Bay Area before Mulder went back to Washington, and I went on to San Diego.
It rained that day; neither of us really knew what we’d want to do on one rainy day in Berkeley. I’d spent one semester there, which I barely remembered. Mulder ran; I looked at things, at the plum tree, at pots and pans with scratches of use and wear, at Katja’s smooth yet ramshackle sculpture and framed pictures of Thomas with grinning Gore-Tex-clad friends atop cliffs. When Mulder got back, he thought he had a find— there was a taco truck down the hill that had at least a half-dozen tradesmen’s trucks around it, which he figured must be a good sign.
Mulder beckoned me over to the divan that you could have landed a fighter jet on. With the relative male command of three-dimensional space, he envisioned and arranged us in such a way that I lay in the vee of his long legs, my shoulders sort of resting in his abdomen and my head against his chest, my elbows propped against his thighs. My book rested directly in front of my face, his, over my head.
A stronger argument for sexual dimorphism had never been made.
I made the mistake at one point of asking him what he was reading. This led to him trying to explain the entire thematic sweep of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series, which led to me simply dozing while cushioned on his breathing, listening to the cadence of his voice and the hiss of the rain. He may have been describing Herbert’s examination of the messianic impulse, or he may have been reciting “Green Eggs and Ham,” which would have worked too. At any rate, after an uncounted number of rises, falls, and raindrops a certain woman asked in a dreamy, faraway voice she had no recollection of ever using before:
“Come to San Diego with me.”
Mulder, out of all the numerous bizarre and rarely perfect things he has chosen to say over seven meandering years, chose “Thank you.”
“So, this is the interrogation lunch?”
And so this was San Diego, La Jolla, upscale and sunny and strange. On the next block there was an entire showroom full of Lamborghinis. She’d seen a single price tag on a watch that constituted just under twenty per cent of her annual net income, and there were other watches that didn’t even have tags.
“Yeah.” There was no point in trying to gloss it over. To my mother, she thought, the sudden appearance of an arrangement in which Mulder and I shared ‘vacation time’, a hotel room, and presumably DNA on occasion, would be slightly better than calling from Austin, Texas, and saying that she’d caught the gay from a tattoo artist named Rayven.
I appreciate what you and Fox mean to each other, is what she’s going to say. I think I have known for years that he loves you. But I love you, too, and… I don’t know what to say, Dana. Part of me thought that this would just be a chapter in your life, that it would end.
The idea of hearing this much of her life laid out in a few sentences made her want to go dig up graves instead.
“So what are you going to tell her?” he asked.
“That you’re doing well, because she worries about you. That I’m having a nice vacation. That you found a spot that made me bite my own finger hard enough to draw blood.” Mulder blanched slightly. She feigned a confused look, held up the offending digit. “She’s gonna see the bandaid, Mulder. You know she’ll ask, and you know I’m a terrible liar. I can’t lie to my own mother.”
His face sagged in dismay.
“Had you,” she cackled. “Had you, had you, had you.”
“You were totally cheating,” he said, feigning hurt. “You were doing that thing with your eyes.”
“There! You did it again. The believe-me thing. You’re going to mess up all our signals.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Spender had told him to dress for the outdoors. The old man looked utterly inoffensive in slightly worn khaki pants, hiking boots, and a sweater. He looked like he might be going fishing, or just for a brisk hike. He had a van, also slightly worn-looking, a big old 14-passenger model in light blue. At nine AM Spender gave Skinner the keys, and they went north and west towards Harrisburg. Long drive today, Spender said, we’ve got one stop to make.
“After the Soviet Union collapsed, scientists in the former republics— all over, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Armenia— continued their work under exceedingly trying conditions. They lacked funding, support, hell, they lacked heat and electricity in some places, but they continued.”
Skinner looked around the inside of the van. It was clean the way a retired man would keep it, maybe if he coached a Little League team or something. He had no doubt that it wasn’t Spender’s, if only because it didn’t smell like smoke, but it made Skinner remember what the counterintelligence types called “tradecraft.” Spender was good.
“Spare me the tales of the Project’s nobility.”
“A well-bred dog is noble, Mr. Skinner. There’s nothing noble about survival. We acted, and continue to act, on the certain knowledge that the human race is doomed unless the work continues.”
“I’ve heard this all before.”
“And yet it’s taken you this long to start listening,” Spender observed. “It’s a poor survival strategy. When the Project was at its most influential and powerful you cooperated grudgingly, trying to protect yourself and your reputation, and sponsoring what you thought was Mulder’s work against it. Now, when it’s one sick, old man against an array of enemies, here you are.” He’d enjoyed that one, Skinner thought, watching Spender take a satisfied drag off his cigarette. “America’s affection for the underdog is dangerous. I’ll make some recommendations about that. People do still sometimes listen to me in terms of grand strategy.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
It’s the teeth that give it away. I first heard it in the car a year and a half ago, waiting for a biker named Julius Rakowsky. Our job was to watch Julius Rakowsky walk twenty yards between his garage and the corner of some street in Pittsburgh’s swollen ass end, and make sure that a three-hundred-pound biker in a knee brace didn’t climb a nine-foot wire fence and give eighteen FBI agents the slip. Scully was asleep, out like a light. That is the only lapse is Scully’s discipline; the woman is practically narcoleptic in the absence of external stimuli. I heard a clatter first, tak-tak-tak-tak-tak, with a faint muffled tone to it that said ‘organic’. I thought initially of an insect, looked around the inside of the car. I caught the motion first before I made the association with the sound. Scully’s jaw was twitching, moving faster than I thought a human body part could. The twitching matched the clattering sound, teeth crashing together muffled quiet by her closed lips. Otherwise she was immobile. Another sound started behind her teeth, something inside her throat.
I reached out for her now at the same point I did then, when her mouth started to open up into a sound I really, really did not want to hear. The expression on her face was almost the same— shock first, figuring out where she was, then something a little guilty. I let my hand linger through her hair for a second.
“Yeah…” she says. “S’ok.”
“Dom DeLuise, or naked calculus exam?”
Scully snorts, blinking, and waits a moment.
“Underground,” she replies. “Dirt, roots.” I’m not quite sure what to say. She moves her shoulders a little like she’s settling in, closes her eyes again. “You realize we almost got eaten by a mushroom.”
“You know it might still be after us. You taste pretty good.”
She snorts at me again, her eyes still closed.
“Lemme know if you hear ticking,” she murmurs. “S’got my watch.”
Scully’s breathing slows again within a minute, and I can hear the Pacific outside our room.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Eastern Pennsylvania 11:42 AM
Surrounding trees splashed the sun into small pools on the gravel driveway. They’d been off the Interstate for more than thirty miles, on successively smaller rural roads. Spender appeared to know the way by heart, giving Walter oddly folksy directions— “left on up here after the new culvert.”
The yard was neat but cluttered, an arbitrarily-placed small green lawn neatly mowed. A couple of small outbuildings looked older than the main house; Skinner imagined an old farmhouse had been torn down, the farm allowed to grow over.
Spender straightened his tie. Skinner saw a woman tending to an old wheelbarrow turned planter at the far end of the yard. She looked up, adjusted her hat to shade her eyes as she saw the van. She looked to be a healthy seventy, Skinner imagined, hearing not what it used to be and hadn’t heard them drive up.
“Her name’s Marjorie Butters,” Spender said. “She’s got quite a green thumb… and plays a mean game of Scrabble.” He opened the door of the van, began to step out, and then turned back to Skinner. “She’s 118 years old. Would you mind getting the cooler out of the back?”
Skinner hefted the cooler; it looked well-used. “M BUTTERS” was written on it in black marker, scraped and faded. As he turned from the back of the van, he saw Spender and the old woman approaching. Her arm was up around Spender’s shoulders, and she was smiling broadly.
“Thank you so very much, it’s Walter, right? If you could just take that through there into the kitchen, Walter, I’ve just made fresh bread this morning and I told Charles I’m not letting you two go without lunch.”
“We’re having company again, Charles?” Marjorie asked as she unpacked the cooler, probably cued by the packages of chicken and bags of carrots and celery. Skinner recognized the tone; it didn’t go with her at all. It sounded spooky, operational, three-letter. It didn’t go with the soft, thin-crusted brown bread and thick, hearty vegetable beef soup she’d served them. My second favorite, Spender had declared, lifting the lid off the soup warming on the gas stove.
Spender looked up from his lunch. Marjorie had chattered to him about her garden, about the fine early summer weather as Skinner sat silently.
“Probably around lunchtime tomorrow. Ten or twelve, I’m not sure. Should just be the one night.”
“Chicken soup this time?” she asked. Skinner was imagining that he heard that signal again, the sound of a secret in her voice when he heard a vehicle, faint, sliding on gravel. Someone had almost missed the last turnoff, taken it fast.
“Yes,” Spender began. Skinner cut him off.
“Are we expecting anyone?”
Skinner was always surprised at the speed and precision of Spender’s movements when it came to violence. He’d carried in a gym bag from the van, set it by the door of the kitchen. By the time Walter was out of his chair, Spender had the bag and was crouching in front of the stove. He had a .45 semiautomatic in each hand.
“.38 in the bag if you don’t have a backup, Walter, we’re going out the side door there on three, make noise, keep them away from the house. Marjorie, go down to the creek and wait until we come for you.”
The older woman slipped out the back door.
“One, two, three.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Their insanely expensive hotel room had a plus-size balcony, virtually a deck, which overlooked the beach and beyond it the ocean. He’d found her out there early the previous evening when he came up from a swim. She’d been back for a little while, her mother was fine, and she didn’t have anything besides that to say. They went to a movie.
She was up before him this morning, their final morning, out on the balcony in a plush hotel robe. No newspaper, no book, no laptop, just a swaddled Scully and the sea in the morning light. He stretched, picking up his own robe.
“So you going to tell me what happened with your mom yesterday?” He didn’t go for any physical contact; he could feel that the deflector shields were already up the second he stepped out onto the balcony.
“I said I didn’t want to talk about it.”
“You’re still waiting for me to say something.”
She sighed heavily, giving in.
“Mulder, I… Christmas last year was the first time I’d spoken to my family in almost two years, since… since after Emily. It, uh, it didn’t go very well. Charlie’s the only one I’m really on speaking terms with, and that’s because we’ve barely seen each other for eight years. He and Bill hate each other, and so Charlie’s never really gotten the whole story.”
“Is this about…?”
“Yes, no. It’s about my life, and my work, and a lot of things. And you, indirectly. After Emily, Bill… Bill told me to stay away from his family. He said, uh, he said that he’s afraid of what might happen to Tara and the boys.” Mulder winced sadly and began to say something. Scully cut him off before he could respond. “Statistically speaking, he had a point, Mulder.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”
“Why? What purpose would that have served?” He’s not arguing, he’s asking, she told herself. “No, I’m sorry. I just, I wanted to get back to our work. It was a hard time, Mulder, you remember. I didn’t want to add to it. Besides, Bill… no one thought he was really serious.”
“What about your mother? What happened yesterday?”
“I don’t know what I wanted. To reconnect, maybe. I don’t know how Charlie spun it, either. He’s tried to make peace, even though he and Bill don’t talk to each other. Maybe she had the impression that with this movie thing, with you and me, that this somehow meant that the X-files were over, that there’d be some sort of normalcy that she could relate to.”
Mulder noted to himself that this was, in seven years, the longest he had ever heard Scully talk about herself in relation to anyone else.
“When she moved out here, I understood why. Her grandkids are here, Bill and Tara. We haven’t talked as much as we said we would, which… that’s hardly unique. She understands what her sons do and why they do it, she sees that their lives are following a normal path, a path that she can support.”
“Scully, your family can’t just cut you off like that.”
“They can and they have, Mulder.” He started to speak again, but she wasn’t going to let him. “Don’t. She knows that I’m not alone, and she’s grateful for that. It’s not anything you can do or say. There’s nothing to work out.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Skinner felt the air light up as they went out the side door. Old reflexes. He saw everything in the finest of detail, conscious of distance, size, depth, the relation of objects in space. It had been almost thirty years since he’d seen the world like this. There was lots of good cover out here, chest-high dogwood hedges, a couple of sheds.
He heard wood splintering above him, on the awning over the door, and dove for a hedge. Spender had followed him out the door, turned sideways, fired three times from his right hand to drive the two men back around the front of the house, then ducked down behind the hedge with Skinner. There was a wheelbarrow there as well. Skinner nodded at it, then pointed back the way they’d came. Spender mouthed ‘go’ silently.
Skinner grabbed the back of the wheelbarrow with one hand, gave it a solid shove. He rolled out to the other side of the hedge, twisting his body back so the man might not see all of him. It was too late— Spender had simply turned around and stood up over the hedge, the heavy semiautomatics barking three times. The young man was already falling, clutching his gun to his chest. Skinner heard a harsh, rattling gasp; Spender had shot the young soldier’s throat out. Spender glanced over towards a toolshed further back in the yard and they both moved, scuttling inside the open door.
“I missed one. My off hand’s not what it used to be,” Spender observed quietly as they settled.
“Deuce! Sound off!” The other man’s voice rang from behind the shed, coming around the other side of the house. Skinner reached out, gently tugged the toolshed door closed. He crouched behind it, hand on the knob. Spender had slipped over the the far side, hand cupped between his ear and the particle board wall. He had a look of concentration, then waved to Skinner, pointing down and along the wall. Skinner guessed that Spender meant “crouching, along this wall.” If they started shooting through the shed’s flimsy walls, the young soldier and his submachine gun’s bigger clip would have an advantage. “Deuce? Ray, you there?” Skinner tried to place where the hedge was in his memory of the yard. If the guy’s there, Skinner imagined he’s going to have a line of sight on his buddy’s body… “Shit!” he heard the kid hiss. Right about there.
He’s looking around the corner of the shed, Skinner imagined, trying to decide whether to stay low over here or dash for the hedge, not sure which side his buddy took fire from. Skinner heard gravel crunch, close. The shed had a little gravel walk outside the door. He shoved the door out hard, all his weight behind it. He caught the kid at about thirty degrees into the door’s swing, heard him cry out and scuffle on the ground. Spender’s gun cracked again, four times as Skinner crabcrawled back along the side of the shed away from the door. Spender had fired right through the wall, where he’d imagined the kid had fallen. Skinner heard more scuffling, and a soft, anguished gasp. He jumped up, stepping just outside the door. The young soldier was trying to drag himself back to where his gun had flown when Skinner smashed him with the door. Blood was streaming down his face, and he was trying to pressure a wound in his thigh with one hand as he scrabbled upwards towards his gun with the other.
“Freeze!” Skinner shouted, training his weapon on the man. Or maybe he pulled the trigger first. Things happened fast.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
He’d been supposed to fly back from San Francisco, days ago, before she’d decided that she didn’t want this time to end. He’d ran, swam. She’d shopped, been on the beach, gone to her first yoga class. They’d been to a couple of art galleries and the San Diego Aquarium. Their luggage held new shoes, hers, new books, his. Some things that hadn’t quite fit one way or another had made it into each other’s suitcases.
And, there’d been one stop left.
Scully had planned this herself, before knowing that Mulder would end up in San Diego with her. She took the car keys when they checked out of their hotel. Scully remembered the way from before, from Christmas a few years ago.
“Where we going?” he asked.
“San Diego regional office,” she replied.
“Aren’t we suspended?”
“I’m hoping they don’t know that,” she said in a tone she hadn’t used for a week.
The San Diego regional office didn’t know a suspended headquarters agent from an unsuspended one. They got one of the interview rooms along with a dozen thin files, in a folder with her name on it. Scully said they’d just be a few minutes.
“I called them a few days ago. I didn’t want to request these records in to our office, just in case,” Scully said once the door was closed. “I figured that the regional office here wouldn’t have any record of our being suspended.”
“What records? In case of what?” Mulder noticed how things seemed to glitter and solidify around Agent Scully, felt his own thought processes speeding up. He was never not conscious of Scully’s formidable intellectual presence, but over the past few days he’d enjoyed getting used to other ones. Changes in moods she normally tried to hide, how many things in her life involved going up on tip-toes when she didn’t wear heels.
“Every NSA employee in the government security clearance database whose name is Ian and who started at the Agency between 1992 and 1997,” she replied.
“You’re looking for your late-night caller, the one who said Skinner was with Cancerman the night we were found… and you don’t want Skinner to find out.” He pulled up a chair, backwards, straddled it. “If the records come here, and you send them back from here, it’ll never show up in Washington. Secret squirrel, Scully. Very impressive.”
She began to quickly scan the pictures attached to the files. Mulder had no secret squirrel DNA, she thought. Mulder liked to break in, to barge in, as if once he saw, once he knew, the game was over and everyone could go home.
“Also probably a dismissable offense, and a longshot. But I think that man was legitimately shaken, and scared. I believe he may have been telling me the truth, at least as he understood it.”
The files were short, a page and a picture, merely confirming the status of the person’s US Government security clearance, what agency had completed the clearance process and employed them, and when.
“So you think Cancerman had us abducted to try and implant us with a hypnotic suggestion?”
Scully had looked at barely half the small pile when she leaned back in her chair, quickly reading one file.
“Here. Mulder, this is him.” She handed him the papers.
“Ian Golder. Top Secret SI, NSA, hired 1994. Couple co-op student terms before that, no military service. Doesn’t seem like a real black operator.”
“I don’t think he was,” Scully said, remembering the tense, anguished young man she’d held a gun on. He’d still smelled of fire, from burning a body, he’d said. His eyes had been wide, panicky. If he’d shown up in an ER she’d have verified that he wasn’t on anything else, and then stuck him with lorazepam. “I don’t think he realized what he’d gotten into.”
Mulder noticed that Ian’s file had two pages, unlike the rest.
“Scully, look at this, there’s a recent note on this file. He was reported missing… two days after he came to your apartment that night. His security clearance has been revoked.”
“Maybe he really did go on the run.”
“It looks like you might be right about him telling you the truth, Scully.”
“And he said Skinner was working with the Cancerman that night.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
They had driven, far and fast. Seven solid hours from Marjorie Butters’, up into New York, past Syracuse, leaving the sunny day in Pennsylvania behind for a blanket of dull clouds that threatened more rain the further north they went. They turned off after Watertown, into vacation country, tiny towns where outside of the gas station the only signs were for boat motor repair and snow removal, passed the I-81 ‘exit for Canada’, as if that was it and you could put an entire country on the end of a bridge after an off-ramp.
Walter knew this was smuggler country, which sounded strange in 2000 but was true. The St. Lawrence River was narrow, navigable in a small boat or a very brave canoe, and impossible to patrol in an area referred to as the “Thousand Islands.” Morley had built a cigarette factory up here, which they denied was to support the trade in contraband cigarettes into Canada. On the other side, Canadians grew marijuana in their basements and sheds to supply America’s appetite. Guns from America, of course, and people both ways.
They fished, or pretended to. Spender had produced rubber boots, rain jackets, and two sets of tackle from the back of the van, and they had taken a nearly invisible path down the rocky bank. Spitting rain had turned steady, and the bank was muddy and slippery. Skinner noticed that the boots were scuffed, the jackets used, the fishing rods already rigged and ready.
“You know how to fish, Walter.”
“Yeah, I used to get out now and then.” Skinner hadn’t needed to ask. The two dead men in Marjorie’s back yard had been soldiers, he could tell, probably Army from their youth and lousy shooting. He remembered a counterintelligence briefing from fifteen years ago, something about the Soviets. Iron triangle, they called it. That was how the system worked in a totalitarian state. Party, armed forces, KGB, the system remaining in equilibrium by the three sides jockeying for advantage against one another. The KGB were always the baddest bad guys. You never heard about the ‘moderate’ wing of the KGB. “Bass, though, not water like this. Imagine this is probably a good night for it,” he said, nodding generally at the steady rain.
“That’s generally the rule. Why did you stop?”
“Long drive to any good fishing from DC.” He’d met the Party. Senator Matheson, and the others who sat at the front of the House committee rooms. Army was fairly self-explanatory. That only left one side of the triangle for the smoking man.
The Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, Camelot, Morning in America— these didn’t figure into the equation at all. Survival, then power. Always about power.
“It didn’t always used to be like this, Walter.”
“This, the… the sneaking, the sordidness. The solitude.”
“You coming on to me?”
“There was a group. We watched each other have families, some of them went to church together. We used to go waterskiing at Bill Mulder’s summer place.” Spender paused for a moment. “I know what you’re thinking—this was before Fox was born, mostly. I saw him as a little boy, barely a toddler. I’d like to say we saw something in each other then, but… he was just a child, and in many ways so was I.”
Smoking in this rain seemed to be largely an act of defiance. Each cigarette lasted approximately two minutes, glowing fitfully in the dark before enough raindrops rendered it soaked and proof against further flame.
“Waterskiing is such a strange pastime, don’t you think. You caper and prance at the end of your line, as if somehow you have control over what’s happening, as if the boat wasn’t there pulling you along. But you don’t. You’re a puppet. All you really have control over is whether or not you keep going.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“So we’re back.”
The windshield wipers pounded furiously back and forth, barely keeping up. Waves of rain hurried over the car as they left the long-term parking lot at Dulles. Summer was here; the rain would roar until four AM and the day would dawn hot, thick and glowing with its sullen invocation of the South.
“So we are.”
Mulder fumbled at the wiper controls, discovered that there wasn’t a setting for “torrential.”
“I miss California already,” she said.
“You figure you’d get tired of sunshine, too,” Mulder replied. “Just not as fast.” They were silent until they left the Dulles access road, heading south on the 295.
“Mulder, I… I need you to stop this,” she said softly.
“Stop coming to me, stop adoring me, stop being so goddamn perfect to me.”
“Are you doubting my sincerity or something?”
“No, Mulder, that’s not it. You know what I mean, you should by now.”
“Scully, it’s just… I’ve been a screwup at this my whole life. We’ve screwed this up before. I told myself I wasn’t going to mess up if I got a chance.”
“Mulder, don’t make me out to be the victim here, or your redeemer, or whatever. Maybe at some level, yes, and that goes both ways. But we’re not talking about sustaining each other’s will to survive in the face of overwhelming odds. I’m not doing you some favor, or giving in, or settling.”
“Scully, don’t… I know what you’re saying, but you’re selling yourself short.”
“In case you missed the memo, Mulder, I’m thirty-six years old and my only serious relationships were ten years ago, with a married man, and nine years ago, with enough Elektra in it to light up the Eastern Seaboard. In twenty years you’re only the fifth man not wearing at least one rubber glove to see me naked. Cosmo tells me I’m behind.”
Mulder chuckled at that.
“I’m not really any better, Scully.”
“Oh, I know that. I’m saying don’t put me on a pedestal somewhere above you, I’m not good at this either and I never have been.”
“What, and I am?”
“If you weren’t turning out to be so good at this, it wouldn’t be as hard for me.”
She reached across the car, in an unfamiliar motion, to touch the side of his face like he would touch hers.
“A lot has happened over the past while, the past several months, and I think you got a head start on me. Mulder, I… I can’t imagine being with anyone but you. I really can’t. But most of the time I still have trouble imagining being with you, too. It’s hard to separate the imagining from the just being here.”
“Scully, now that we’re back, I don’t know how you want to…”
“Mulder, I’d rather not talk about it.” She regretted that immediately. It was just a pattern of words to her, something that just came out. Need to think these things through more now. “But if you want to just take us to your place, that would be… that would be good with me.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“There. That’s it.” Spender was already reeling in, carefully setting his tackle aside, when Skinner saw the light flashes on the water, insistent and repetitive.
Spender removed a small hooded flashlight from his pocket, responded with a quick series of flashes. Skinner saw a small boat, barely a dinghy. At least a dozen people were huddled in it, thrashed by the rain. The gunwales tottered six inches above the broken water of the St. Lawrence. The motor was off, several people rowing with mismatched paddles. Spender was picking his way through the rocks towards a tiny sheltered spot where the boat was going to land.
“Probably going to need a hand here, Walter. I don’t know how mobile these…”
As the boat approached, Walter saw that most of the people were hooded; one man at the bow and another on the engine weren’t. They looked Asian, probably Chinese, wearing cheap plastic rain slickers. The passengers, he realized, had hoods pulled over their faces. Rough eyeholes were cut in them, loose and obscuring. The heavy fabric was soaked, and clung oddly to their heads. The man in the bow called out softly to Spender, tossing a yellow nylon rope. The current dragged the boat downstream, pivoting around Spender as he hauled the line in. Skinner picked his way past him, the rocks on the shore rain-slicked and slippery. He made his way to where the boat was just broadsiding up against the rocks. The man on the motor climbed carefully out, holding the stern and motioning to the occupants to get out. He growled something in Chinese. The boat people moved lightly and quickly, but clumsily. Skinner, reasonably sure of his own footing, extended a hand to the first of the hooded figures.
“Here,” he said. The figure, barely four and a half feet tall, hesitated, then reached out as if urged by the pressure of its compatriots. The hand was cold, damp, slim fingers like a woman but long for her height. As she stepped up and past Walter he saw she was wearing little black rubber-soled slippers on bare feet. China, definitely. The ankles, the legs were tiny, tiny. She would make Scully look like an overblown earth mother. Spender’s voice sounded, saying something Skinner couldn’t understand, and the tiny woman moved up the bank. Spender looked up to the next in line. The rain had soaked the hood down close to the head, and Skinner tried to make eye contact.
There was only black.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
The rain on Mulder’s bedroom window was insistent, the shadows of the trees frantic. Their suitcases sat just inside the door. Mulder had thought of something; there were two bottles of wine in their carry-on and he knew he had glasses somewhere. Scully had none of it, moved them quickly, not even turning on the lights, shoes scattered in the hallway.
The trees waving outside made him conscious of seconds ticking away, that the end of the night’s rain might mean the end of all things. The waving branches outside seemed to slow as Scully’s breast brushed against his face, drawing his lips.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
They were silent, all of them, responding with fluttering movements to Spender’s direction and the Chinese cursing of the two men in the boat. Skinner stopped looking at them, only watching their feet to be sure they wouldn’t stumble on the slippery rock. He didn’t want to be carrying a casualty with a broken ankle up the steep bank, even one as tiny as these were. Most of them wore the same cheap black slippers, but a few were barefoot. He tried not to notice the feet.
The last out of the boat, naturally, cradled a small silent bundle. The whole tribe’s on the move, Walter thought. She stepped delicately, hesitatingly forward, changed her mind, trying to shake her head to realign the hood obscuring her vision. The motor-man holding the stern barked at her.
“It’s okay,” Skinner said, inching forward to hold out his arms. The woman held out the bundle. Walter realized that the baby was wrapped in a bit of plastic tarpaulin first, to keep it dry. He took the small weight in his hands; tiny as well, felt like a five-pound dumbbell. As he brought it in towards him, it wriggled, as silent as the rest of its kin.
Don’t look. Don’t look. Help her out of the boat with the other hand, lift hard so she can get over those sharp rocks…
The hooded woman extended her arms when she was stable on the shore. Without thinking, Walter looked down at the child before handing it back to its mother. Inside the black tarp was an equally ragged fleece blanket. The mouth was tiny and lipless, the eyes tremendous and black as space.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Close, so close together. The wind threw sheets of rain so hard that Mulder’s window rattled. A thousand wobbling, trickling shades of gray painted Scully beneath him, washing out red and co-opting blue. Her eyes are open, she’s smiling at him. His name, God’s name, and little else, nothing on earth like that voice. Slow, so slow she moved, smooth strong thighs up around his hips, hands urging and controlling at the same time. She’s gone on ahead, finishing the race she still runs with herself. Now she gives herself up to him, soft and humid, moving for his pleasure and her pleasure in that.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“Who are they?” The rain was worsening rapidly as the boat pushed away, the two smugglers picking up paddles to move their craft downstream and away from the rendezvous point.
“In the boat?” Spender responded. “Snakeheads— criminal gangs, in the business of smuggling people. Useful subcontractors, if you need to operate within their particular context.”
“I mean, who are these people?”
“Just get them up to the van, I’ll explain.”
The immigrants, as Walter was thinking of them, were nimble and obedient but slow, fluttery and inefficient. It was like trying to herd dragonflies. It seemed like they were incapable of moving more than a few steps in a group of less than four or five. Walter skidded up and down the muddy, slippery trail through the trees, shuttling back and forth to urge one group forward, go back down to another and lead them up the path until they appeared to be have some momentum, then back up to move the first group along again. Spender was doing the same, and Skinner could hear the old man’s breath wheezing as he counted out loud.
“Nine adults, four children, and the baby,” he noted to Skinner as they passed each other on the slope.
Getting the immigrants into the van was another matter; the mechanics of navigating the four rows of seats appeared to absolutely baffle them. Spender had to demonstrate, gently herding one of the adults into the back row and pushing down slightly on its shoulders to make it sit. That seemed to signal the rest, who immediately attempted to do the same, trapping Spender at the back of the van amidst the temporary mass of shuffling figures.
The old man halted outside the van for a moment, bent over slightly. He coughed five or six times, clearly controlling himself, forcing down the impulse. Skinner heard him fighting to breathe steadily.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes… yes. I’ve got an inhaler for this. Left it in my coat at Marjorie’s.” He straightened up, collecting himself. “Mr. Skinner, I hope you don’t mind driving again.”
As they got into the front seats of the van, Spender began answering the questions that Walter was about to repeat.
“They were an experiment. The Chinese are far behind where we were. Twenty years or more, several generations of research. But they are moving up quickly, with a disregard for the material and human cost of their progress that’s oddly inspiring. These are their discards. A sympathetic individual helped them escape late last year; we heard of their plight and arranged for their transport here.”
“You want to study them, of course.”
“Of course. But they’ll be alive, properly treated.” Spender looked up and down the four huddled rows, at the ragged clothes and the scuffed little slippers. None of them had removed the sacks from their heads. “They’ll have some dignity. I think that’s something.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“It’s still pouring.”
“It’s nice if you’re inside.”
“I’d like snow,” she said. “I’d like a snow day, two feet of snow.”
“Maybe at Christmas.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
“General Leopold to see you.”
Spender received very few visitors at his office; it was more like, as he’d said, house arrest. Those who came to see him were generally making sure he was still there. But the vast omniscient machine of surveillance that he had helped to build was rusting, its eyes half-blind and ears half-deaf in their increasing multiplicity, the driven and dedicated human brains that once sat at its core replaced by vast chattering databases that catalogued all and knew nothing. Avoiding it entirely was beneath him— not when he could still manipulate it to his advantage, even from the outside.
“Steve, come on in, have a seat.” He ignored the general’s two aides— an Army major, who’d perceptibly winced at Spender’s informal use of the General’s first name, and a woman in civilian dress. Neither of them were familiar. The woman had a small-town prettiness that he imagined would coarsen with age. She looked too young, Spender thought, had probably been a sergeant two years ago and caught someone’s eye.
“Staying out of trouble, Bill?” the general asked with a practiced casualness.
“You know what they say about idle hands, Steve. What can I do for you?” The general nodded to his aides. The major gestured to the woman, allowing her to exit first before he closed Spender’s office door behind them. General Leopold nodded. He pulled two photographs from the inside pocket of his jacket, enlargements of military ID photos.
“Either of these two men look familiar to you?” Spender glanced at them. The men from Pennsylvania; one too inexperienced for him and the other too slow for Walter Skinner.
“No.” He shook his head, dragged on his cigarette. “They’re so young, Steve. Boys sent to do a man’s job again?”
“That’s how boys become men. You should know that.”
“That’s true. But so few of them ever do.”
“You play on our team, Spender. You play on our team or you’re out of the game.”
“I don’t play games anymore, Steve. Only game I play these days is golf.”
“You are very, very short on friends these days.”
“I have all the friends I need. And I know where they’re all buried.” Spender rose, began to tap himself out a smoke. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a tee time.”
His guest understood; not getting anywhere today, no point trying to push the message harder.
“One more thing, Bill,” the general said with a casual air. “Some old friends of yours, Parabola and Hyperbola. We had a report that they may still be working this issue. You have any contact with them these days?”
“Oh, Fox Mulder. No, no, that’s old news. Mulder’s no one now. I wouldn’t worry about him if I were you.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
thanks to Cathryn and Penumbra
—— 11 ——
t h e f a l l o f o u r s u m m e r
From: Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2009 20:39:44 -0500 (CDT) Subject: Kvs7: The Fall Of Our Summer (NC-17, 1/1) by Khyber Source: direct
Title: The Fall Of Our Summer Author: Khyber Email: Classification: VAR Spoilers: “Drive” Keywords: Mulder/Scully Summary: Post-ep for “Drive.” Technically, also slightly AU. The rest of Khyber Versus Season Seven can be found at http://www.khyberfic/vs7.html
Thanks to Cath (um, surprise, it grew) and Penumbra.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Arcata Hotel Arcata, California November 16, 1998
“Do you know you can’t shingle in the rain, Scully?”
This far north in California they didn’t do wine, didn’t do tourists. The hotel overlooking the town square smelled of forty years of morning sea fog, like molluscs rotting in cat piss under the worn red carpet. The pregnant girl at the counter said they were having a problem with the phones. Scully guessed that was the problem you have when you don’t pay the phone bill.
“No, but hum a few bars and I’ll fake it.”
She shut the door. Mulder had a sixpack in his room, sitting next to him on the bed. It was something cheap, working-man, that only tastes good cold and barely even then. He hadn’t changed, was still wearing the same shirt and pants he’d been wearing 48 hours ago in Idaho.
Scully could see where he was already, wishing he knew how to do something with his hands, wanting to throw a baseball around. The guys with hammers and baseballs wish they had sunglasses and guns, she thought. Nobody’s happy.
“So… I just got off the phone with the SAC of the Sacramento office,” she said. She very deliberately yanked a beer from the plastic rings, making sure he watched her. “She’s really unhappy.” You’re not in trouble from me, Mulder, the way she popped the can open was supposed to say.
“‘Bout what?” he mumbled.
“You trying to set up a press conference tomorrow?” Beer had splashed out on top of the can when she popped it open and she delicately slurped it off, leaving a bit of lipstick on the rim.
“Oh, that.” He twisted the tab off the can, sank it nine feet into the bathroom wastebasket.
“Why were you going to hold a press conference, Mulder?”
“Can’t shingle in the rain,” he chose not to respond. “Learned that from Mr. Patrick Crump. I don’t know why. You’d think if you had taken your roof apart, that you’d especially want to fix it if it was raining.”
“The last time you went into a Home Depot it was because the cargo elevator ate a man.” She sat down on the edge of the bed. “What’s on your mind?”
“He was an innocent man, Scully. Crump, I mean, not the guy in the elevator, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt too. No, it’s worse than that. Mr. Patrick Crump… was a victim, a victim of a system we’re supposed to trust but that doesn’t give a damn about you if you don’t make trouble and tries to crush you if you do.” Mulder crushed the can in one hand, rattled it hard into the wastebasket. “That’s no way to treat a man, take away his dignity like that.”
Mulder was a cheap drunk. For that matter, so was she. If they split that sixpack, he’d be mopey as hell and she’d be tanked and needing to pee every fifteen minutes.
“So you were gonna try and, what, set the record straight?”
He ripped straight into a second beer, looked at it for a second, but didn’t drink.
“It matters, it matters how we remember. I want everybody to know that the crazy guy on the news yesterday was trying to save his wife’s life, that he was doing what anybody would do if they were half a man. Not just,” now he swigged from the can, “America’s Best Car Chases.”
What anybody would do. Mulder came to the end of the earth for me. The literal end of the earth, the point at which cartoon physics suggests you should fall off.
It had been five weeks since they’d last been at each other, nine weeks since they’d first. It should have been ten, Scully thought. She should have dragged him over to her apartment the moment the flight from Buenos Aires had landed, pushed him onto her bed still battered and glowing in the heroic aura of their improbable lives. She should have given him the base and honest gratitude of her body, the sweet barbaric reward he deserved but would barely admit to wanting.
But she didn’t. Instead she’d fucked him on his couch a week later out of need and a vague malice, wanting to use him and confuse him at the same time. She thought it was something one of those complicated, clever women he’d loved might do, pull on her clothes and leave without a word.
Scully screwed him with the same fierce, focused competence she did everything nowadays, deriving the same detached and temporary satisfaction. She knew she was a better lay than she’d been before, though it wasn’t as if she’d had any opportunities to practice. It had been almost three years since their first affair. She liked to think of it that way, an affair, box up those few months and put it in the closet with the photographs that would never be sorted.
They’d kept doing it. It wasn’t like the affair, where they’d have lunch together, where she’d dress wondering if his hands might undress her later. Now he showed up at her place at two in the morning, eyes wide and honest and full of promise. She sensed danger, shoved her sex in his face before he could say anything she would regret later. Mulder understood, and bent her over a rental car in Illinois, nine-thirty in the morning under Indian summer sun, told her in spine-quivering detail exactly what she felt like.
The last time, five weeks ago, Scully had gone to his place on a Sunday morning, because she wanted to be with him. It went exactly like that feeling should, he made her laugh and smile and made love to her on a duvet on his living room floor. Scully felt herself melting, the hardness of will and self-containment shrinking like ice in the sun. If he’d had a bed to hold her on, the glass threads that hold her together would have shattered and left her scattered and immobile, left him with an armful of sweet useless rag doll.
She should have known. Five weeks ago, and she never went back.
“What were you going to say at the press conference?” she asked.
“I hadn’t quite thought that through yet,” he admitted, sipped his beer. “I had more of a mental picture. The basics. SEAFARER, your autopsy results. There has to be something about this besides a couple minutes of car-chase footage.”
“Well, you may get it. Apparently Vicky Crump’s sister and father are suing the Elko PD for wrongful death.”
“That was fast,” Mulder snorted. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Navy’s already paying all the lawyers on both sides, keep it behind the ‘pending lawsuit’ forever.”
“It’ll happen, Mulder. There’s too many people who know about this. There’ll probably be a full inquiry.”
“People don’t know, Scully. If there’s an inquiry we’ll be talking about dolphin sonar and intercranial pressure and wavelengths and resonant frequencies, not about a guy who watched his wife’s head explode in the back seat of a car he stole trying to keep her alive.” Mulder dragged on his beer and stared into the empty television screen. “She’d been making him breakfast, he had a day off, and she had a headache, and…”
She heard his voice hitch. His eyes looked lost, watery. Scully put a hand on his arm, interrupting.
“And you drove from northern Nevada to the coast with a gun to your head yesterday. Patrick Crump lived his life and you lived yours.” Her hand lingered. “You’re exhausted. I’m gonna sit here, and we’re gonna finish our drinks, and then you’re going to go to bed.”
I could have said we, she thought, feeling him under her hand. Shove him into the shower, pull him into bed. That would, in the big picture, be the right thing to do, like it would have been the right thing to end our Antarctic adventure with a kiss and a fade to black.
“You’re right,” he said. “I’m tired. This was really not a good day.” He rubbed his hand on his chest as if he was trying to wipe something off.
They sat quietly for a few minutes, the faint barroom scent of the cheap beer around them. I should make him touch me, she thought.
Comfort him against my naked breasts, let him draw on my body with his fingers.
She retired, untouched, to her own room to her notes and files, to the focused and competent aggregation of dolphin sonar, intercranial pressure, wavelengths and resonant frequencies.
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Scully didn’t startle when she heard the bathroom door open. A few minutes before, she’d heard the front door of her room over the rush of water from the shower. He’d been standing outside, getting his nerve up. It was him, it could only be him, if only because he was the only one with a key to the room.
She turned off the water, slid the curtain open to get a towel, and let him watch her naked body. Scully knew the parts he liked, the trim stomach, soft breasts. He’d told her their third time that her pussy was beautiful, that he could stay there all day. It was the first dirty, sexy thing either of them had said to each other. She toweled herself dry, ignoring him as he stood in the doorway
“What?” His voice was low, rough, almost angry. “This is what we do, isn’t it? Have I figured out how this works now?”
“No, you haven’t,” she said, tossing the towel on the floor and running her fingers once through her damp hair.
“Why’s that?” When he stepped closer she could smell him, still unwashed, sweat and beer. She was going to need to shower again after.
“Because you’re still talking.”
He had her up on the edge of the counter in five seconds. Her travel bag fell to the floor, feminine secrets clattering on the scuffed tiles. Mulder groped roughly at her breasts, her breath hissing as he captured her nipple between two fingers. There was no trail of kisses down her belly, he simply dropped to his knees, hungrily at her sex like a starving dog. He was readying her, hard and quick, reducing her to a linear progression of sexual responses. Scully gasped and swore, a tenant in her own warming, moistening, uncaring body.
She held his head between her legs, fingertips digging into his scalp, until the mutual chemistry of want/need demanded that he be inside her. Released, he stood up, flattened his hands on the mirror behind her, trapped her shoulders between his outstretched arms. That’s right, she thought, I only want to be held. Scully raked her nails along the insides of his biceps, his forearms, before reaching down between them to spread herself with one hand, guide him in with the other. Mulder’s cock was as stiff and hard as oak. She left her fingers there as he sank into her sex, felt herself wrapping slick and wet around him.
She had no leverage on the countertop and so she let him fuck her, thighs spread to receive his thrusts, stroking her own clit with one hand. Everything tuned out, Mulder’s wild, dark eyes, the damp hard edge of the counter under her ass, the world reducing down to the hard thing slithering over the sensitive places inside her. Scully opened her eyes to look down, saw the thick ruddy shaft plunging back and forth, momentarily surprising her with its synchronicity with the sensations inside her.
That’s it, that’s me, I’m getting fucked, and then whoooosh like c1 and c2 were disconnecting from her skull, coiling down into her belly to surround her cunt as she went off. When Mulder fucked her she came, every single time since the first, and once upon a time she’d thought she was one of those girls who just doesn’t, not with someone else.
missy told her she just hadn’t met the right guy yet
When she looked up Mulder was slowing, his eyes flat and sad. He tried to pull back from her, out of her, mumbling.
“No, this is, not like this, this is just fucked up…”
She locked her legs around him, crossing her ankles over his ass.
just fuck me, Mulder, don’t cry on me, if a single tear hits me I’ll soak and split like tissue paper
“This is all there is,” Scully said. She grabbed a handful of his tshirt, dragging him inside, urging him back into the rhythm, bearing herself down to squeeze his cock.
all I know of Vicky Crump is the gaping bloody hole in her head
“Does it work?” he growled. She pulled him in closer, he liked to feel that, feel her body pressed against him like they were really lovers.
edematous with dead things, dead angels, blonde and burned, I have no room left for Vicky or Patrick Crump or anything else
“I don’t know anymore,” she whispered over his shoulder.
When he came inside her, she wondered if a black-eyed demon born of a corpse had a word that felt like “mommy.”
❬❬ ❖ ❭❭
Unfortunately, that’s all he wrote. The other planned stories never eventuated:
-her own mountain
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